Nothing 'fair' about it if you own a home or have a pension
I watched Brendan Courtney's excellent documentary 'We need to talk about Dad' like one of those nodding dogs in the back of cars.
Like Brendan, it's something I have had to consider for a couple of family members over the last year.
Because I'm in the research business, my relations reckoned I'd be the 'expert', the best person to tackle the ins and outs, guide us to the right solution.
I did too.
It shouldn't be all that difficult. After all, the Fair Deal scheme is a no-brainer, right? I've been a fan of it since Mary Harney introduced it in 2009. As it turned out, the principle bears little relation to the practice.
Elder care is astronomically expensive. With childcare, which grabs all the headlines, the bulk of the financial burden generally ends after five years.
Irish women today can expect to live until 83; men, 81, according to OECD and EU studies. Anyone born this century will very probably live to the next one. To put it in context, in 1900 life expectancy was just 49. While many older people live healthy, full lives, there's no doubt things start 'going wrong' a lot more after 65 than before it.
Most of us want, like my relatives, to stay at home as long as possible. This is overwhelming; an almost burning need. Securing HSE Home Care Package hours is, to put it mildly, fraught, insufficient and, crucially, not an entitlement.
You are at the mercy of forms, rules, geography and budgets. Buying private hours costs a fortune. The State seems intent on shovelling us into care homes instead.
'Fair Deal' is the last stop before the terminus. More forms, even more rules, more money.
The good news: we found the majority of nursing homes to be well run, caring places.
All of the people we met were kind, helpful and genuinely nice. The pay is rubbish, so it's all the more worthy. Hiqa does a decent job in assessing private and public homes; they are equally good by the way.
If you are a Ninja (no income, no job or assets), it's a winner. You can choose your care home, hand over €186.40 a week (80pc of your pension) and you get care valued at eight times that.
The bad news is that if you have saved any money during your working life, bought your own home, or have the temerity to have funded a private pension, know this: not only will you be paying for your own care, but you will be heavily subsidising those who cannot. This is how Fair Deal works.
Your home? You'll be billed for 7.5pc of its value each year (an invoice of €37,500pa for three years on a house worth €500,000). Your pension? 80pc will be taken (that's €24,000 out of a €30,000pa income).
Any other assets? 7.5pc a year of your savings, shares, post office account, business - gone. This bill is not capped, so it gets stripped as long as you live or the money runs out.
Decide to pay privately? The average cost of a nursing home is €1,200 a week, or €62,400 a year.
Even with tax relief, it'll be more expensive than anything you have ever bought in your life.
There's the dilemma. That's the bit that has you (and had us, and Brendan) writing and re-writing sums late at night; calculating, re-calculating, sighing, crying, doing it all over again. Columns of figures, feeling heartless because the one unknown is how long your loved one will live.
I wish there was another solution. I don't have one.
It's not the State's job to make sure the next generation has its inheritance preserved. Should we raise taxes?
I do know the issue is here to stay, and growing. Like most things about being old, it's not for the faint-hearted.