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LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE INFORMATION

Because of old age, mental or physical illness, or injury, some people find themselves in need of help with eating, bathing, dressing, and other physical activities. Long-term care insurance can help pay for such care in the future, in the event you are faced with the need for such assistance. The information below can help you understand some of the issues to consider when deciding on a long-term care insurance policy.
 
What is 'long-term care'?

Because of old age, mental or physical illness, or injury, some people find themselves in need of help with eating, bathing, dressing, toileting or continence, and/or transferring (e.g., getting out of a chair or out of bed). These six actions are called Activities of Daily Living–sometimes referred to as ADLs. In general, if you can’t do two or more of these activities, or if you have a cognitive impairment, you are said to need “long-term care.”

Long-term care isn’t a very helpful name for this type of situation because, for one thing, it might not last for a long time. Some people who need ADL services might need them only for a few months or less.

Many people think that long-term care is provided exclusively in a nursing home. It can be, but it can also be provided in an adult day care center, an assisted living facility, or at home.

Assistance with ADLs, called “custodial care,” may be provided in the same place as (and therefore is sometimes confused with) “skilled care.” Skilled care means medical, nursing, or rehabilitative services, including help taking medicine, undergoing testing (e.g. blood pressure), or other similar services. This distinction is important because Medicare and most private health insurance pays only for skilled care–not custodial care.
 
Will I need long-term care?

If you’re under 55, it’s unlikely. Even over 55, only a small percentage of the population will need long-term care before they are in their 70s or 80s. To illustrate, current research suggests that, of a group of healthy 65-year-olds, in their lifetime,

56 percent won’t ever use a nursing home
12 percent will use a nursing home for less than 3 months
9 percent will use a nursing home for 3 months to a year
15 percent will use a nursing home for 1 year to 5 years, and
8 percent will use a nursing home for 5 years or longer.

For another perspective, according to data from actuarial consulting firm Milliman & Robertson, the probability of a 45-year-old male having a qualifying nursing home admission is about 1 in 1000, but for an 85-year-old male it’s 60 in 1000. Separately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in mid-2002 that nearly half of all men and women age 85 and older had Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia.

But if you’re under 85 it doesn’t mean you should ignore the topic of long-term care insurance because

You might already be unable to buy long-term care insurance. Wakely Consulting Group, an actuarial firm, studied applicants for long-term care insurance in 2003-2004; the findings: 11 percent in their 50s were rejected, 19 percent in their 60s were rejected, and 43 percent in their 70s were rejected.
A Milliman actuary reported an estimate that 15 to 25 percent of the over-65 age group are uninsurable for long-term care.
A report from the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation indicates that there are over five million people ages 18-64 who need some type of long-term care.
The latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics (for 1999) reported that roughly 160,000 of the people living in nursing homes were under age 65 (nearly 10 percent of the total). Of those receiving home health care services, roughly 400,000 were under 65 (about 30 percent of the total).
 
Should I buy long-term care insurance?

If you need long-term care services and have to pay to obtain them, what financial resources could you call on? Do you have enough to pay for four or more years in a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or home health care?

If you’re over 65, don’t rely on Medicare or private health insurance. Medicare doesn’t pay for custodial care, and private health insurance rarely pays any of the cost of long-term care.

If you expect to have very little money when you need long-term care services, you might qualify for Medicaid, a government program that pays the medical and long-term care expenses of poor people. If you expect to be in that situation, you probably shouldn’t buy long-term care insurance, because your state’s Medicaid program will pay your long-term care expenses. Buying long-term care insurance would only save the state—not you—money. The exception is if you live in California, Connecticut, Indiana, or New York, states that have a Partnership for Long-Term Care program. For residents of these four states, buying long-term care insurance does offer an additional benefit.

If you expect to have a lot of money when you need long-term care services, you also probably shouldn’t buy long-term care insurance. Instead, you should plan to pay for the care “out of pocket”—that is, as a regular expense. One financial advisor suggested in a newspaper interview that if your net worth is in the $1.5 million range, not including the value of your home, you could safely skip buying long-term care insurance and treat long-term care expenses, if they arise, as you do your other bills.

If you fall in-between these two categories, owning long-term care insurance, like all other insurance coverages, offers peace-of-mind benefits as well as financial ones. For example, a recent survey of people age 50 and over asked how confident they were that they could pay for long-term care services if they needed them. Among those with long-term care policies, 52 percent said they were very confident and another 40 percent said they were somewhat confident. Among those who didn’t own a long-term care policy, only 8 percent were very confident and only 27 percent were somewhat confident.

So, unless you have so little money that you will qualify for Medicaid, or so much money that you can pay the bills out of your own pocket, you should consider buying long-term care insurance.
 
How much does long-term care cost?

The fact that you might need long-term care doesn’t mean that you have to pay someone to provide it. Many people who need help get it for free from a relative or friend, usually at home. In a recent survey of people over 50, roughly 90 percent said they expect to be the primary caregiver if their spouse or partner needs long-term care.

But even unpaid caregivers need a break from time to time, or have full- or part-time jobs that prevent them from caregiving throughout the day. If you do pay someone to provide assistance with ADLs, the cost of long-term care depends on three factors – the general level of charges in your part of the country, the specific expense rate for the services you need, and how long the need for care lasts.

According to a survey by the MetLife Mature Market Institute (MMI) in August 2005, the average cost for a month in a semiprivate room in a nursing home ranged from a low of $3,000 in Shreveport, LA, to a high of $9,500 in the Stamford, CT, area. (Actually, the average cost for a month in a semiprivate nursing home room was $14,200 statewide in Alaska, but this is a true “outlier.” The next highest cost was in the Stamford CT area.) A year-long stay translates to $36,900 in Shreveport and $115,700 in the Stamford area (and $172,600 in Alaska).

The same survey also covered costs for Home Health Care. In August 2005, the lowest average hourly rate for a home health aide was $12 in Shreveport, and the highest was $28 in Rochester, MN. (Surprisingly, Alaska was not tops in the nation for this service; at $22, it was close to the national average of $19.) If you need a home health aide around the clock, this translates to a daily rate ranging from $288 to $672, or a monthly rate of $8,640 to $20,160.

In October 2004, the MMI surveyed costs of Assisted Living. The lowest average monthly base rate it found was $1,340 in Miami, and the highest was $3,700 in the Washington, D.C. metro area and also statewide in Alaska.

In another study, of people making claims under long-term care insurance policies, roughly one in four claims were for two years or more. One in twelve claims were for four years or more.

Finally, don’t forget that long-term care costs, like most health care costs, are rising faster than the general rate of inflation. The bottom line? A four-year-or-longer stay in a nursing home could cost $300,000 or more – in today’s dollars. If you can’t pay this out of your own pocket and aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, you should consider buying long-term care insurance.
 
What's the best age to buy long-term care insurance?

In general, it's a good idea to buy long-term care insurance before you’re 60, for two reasons:

The younger you are, the less likely it is that you’ll be rejected when you apply for the policy. If you apply in your 50s, there’s a one in ten chance you’ll be rejected. If you apply in your 60s, the chance of rejection is two in ten. If you apply in your 70s, the chance of rejection is four in ten.
The younger you are, the lower the premium will be for a given set of benefits and features. Once the premium is set, it stays at that amount for the life of the policy, unless the claims for the group of people who have bought that type of policy require that rates for the group be raised.
 
What features of long-term care policies should I focus on?

There are various questions and issues to keep in mind when choosing a long-term care policy.
 
Where may care occur?

The best policies pay for care in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or at home. Benefits are typically expressed in daily amounts, with a lifetime maximum. Some policies pay half as much per day for at-home care as for nursing home care. Others pay the same amount, or have a "pool of benefits" that can be tapped as needed.
 
Under what conditions will the policy begin paying benefits?

The policy should state the various conditions that must be met.

Some older policies require a hospital stay of at least three days before benefits can be paid. This requirement is very restrictive; you should avoid it.
Most policies have a “waiting period” or "elimination" period. This is a period that begins when you first need long-term care and lasts as long as the policy provides. During the waiting period, the policy will not pay benefits. If you recover before the waiting period ends, the policy doesn’t pay for expenses you incur during the waiting period. The policy pays only for expenses that occur after the waiting period is over, if you continue to need care. In general, the longer the waiting period, the lower the premium for the long-term care policy.
 
What previous events must occur before the policy begins paying benefits?

Some older policies require a hospital stay of at least three days before benefits can be paid. This requirement is very restrictive; you should avoid it.
Most policies have a “waiting period” or "elimination" period. This is a period that begins when you first need long-term care and lasts as long as the policy provides. During the waiting period, the policy will not pay benefits. If you recover before the waiting period ends, the policy doesn’t pay for expenses you incur during the waiting period. The policy pays only for expenses that occur after the waiting period is over, if you continue to need care. In general, the longer the waiting period, the lower the premium for the long-term care policy.
 
How long will benefits last?

A benefit period may range from two years to lifetime. You can keep premiums down by electing coverage for three to four years—longer than the average nursing home stay—instead of lifetime.
 
Six other important policy provisions

Inflation protection is an important feature, especially if you are under 65 when you buy benefits that you may not use for 20 years or more. A good inflation provision compounds benefits at 5 percent a year.
Guaranteed renewable policies must be renewed by the insurance company, although premiums can go up if they are increased for an entire class of policyholders.
Waiver of premium, so that no further premiums are due once you start to receive benefits.
Third-party notification, so that a relative, friend or professional adviser will be notified if you forget to pay a premium.
Nonforfeiture benefits keep a lesser amount of insurance in force if you let the policy lapse. This provision is required by some states.
Restoration of benefits, which ensures that maximum benefits are put back in place if you receive benefits for a time, then recover and go for a specified period (typically six months) without receiving benefits.
 
How can I save on long-term care insurance?

The tips below will help you save money wisely, but don’t rely on price alone.

MOST IMPORTANT: Because you may not collect for decades to come, be sure to buy from a company that has been around for some time and is financially stable. You may want to look up, from an independent rating agency, the financial strength ratings of a company you're considering.

GENERAL GUIDELINE: Keep the premium for your long-term care insurance policy to 7 percent of your income, or less. For example, if your monthly income is $4,000, the long-term care insurance premium should not be more than $280 per month. (This is what the National Association of Insurance Commissioners recommends in its Model Regulation for Long-Term Care Insurance.) Another expert advises that the income to use in this calculation isn’t your current income, but your expected income in retirement, since that’s the income from which you’ll be paying premiums for most of the policy’s existence.
 
Other ways of saving:

Find out if long-term care benefits are available through a group policy from your employer. Employers might subsidize the cost, lowering what you must pay.
 
Check whether you can add long-term care benefits as a rider on an existing life insurance or annuity policy. These “combination” arrangements can save because the insurance company gains operational savings that it can pass along to you.
Buy a policy with the longest waiting period you can afford. For example, choosing a 90-day period instead of a 30-day period can cut the premium by 30%. However, if you do need long-term care services, you should save some money to pay these costs until the waiting period ends.
If both spouses of a married couple are considering buying long-term care policies, look into buying one joint policy for both of you. Such a policy pays when either one needs care and can pay for both, if necessary, up to its benefit limits.
If you’re still looking to trim the premium further, consider buying a policy that will pay most, but not all, of the average nursing home costs in your area. For example, if a nursing home room now costs $120 per day, buy a policy that pays $100 per day. However, be sure to buy an inflation-protection provision.
Check with several companies and agents, comparing both benefits and costs. As with other types of insurance (and many other purchases), comparison shopping can save you money. Just be sure you’re comparing policies with similar provisions and companies with comparable financial strength and service records.
 
Should I invest instead of buying long-term care insurance?

If you're under 55, you might think that, since the likelihood of long-term care outlays is many years in the future, you could invest the money you might otherwise spend for long-term care insurance premiums. That way, if you do need long-term care, you could just draw upon that investment, and if not, you’d have money for your heirs, for a charitable donation, or for your own needs.

But this strategy leaves you vulnerable if you need long-term care services in your late 50s, 60s, or early 70s. And it might also leave you vulnerable if you need these services for a long time, even if you don’t need assistance until you’re in your 80s. Here’s why:

Assume you’re 55 and won’t need long-term care for 30 years, when you’re 85.
Assume you save $2,000 per year,(1) that you invest the savings, and that your investment grows at 5 percent per year, net after taxes.

After 30 years, your savings will have grown to $139,500.

Assume today’s monthly cost of round-the-clock home health care grows, due to inflation, by only 3 percent per year, from $12,000 per month now to $28,300 per month then.

At that time, if all these assumptions prove to be true, your savings would be able to pay for five months of round-the-clock home care or maybe nine months of nursing home care; if you need more – say, because the cost of long-term care services grew faster than 3percent per year—you’d have to liquidate other assets that you hadn’t planned to liquidate, if you have them.

This figure is not intended to represent the premium for a long-term care policy for a 55-year-old, because premiums vary considerably depending on the daily benefit amount, length of benefit period, length of waiting period, and inflation and other policy features. It only shows how the overall analysis might work.
 
What are 'Partnership for Long-Term Care' programs?

Residents of California, Connecticut, Indiana and New York may take advantage of their state’s Partnership for Long-Term Care program.

Medicaid is a state-government-administered program that pays the medical and long-term care expenses of poor people. If you have more money than your state permits when you need long-term care services, your state’s Medicaid won’t pay for those services. You’ll have to spend your own money–including using up your assets–until you become poor enough to qualify.

But if you live in California, Connecticut, Indiana or New York and you participate in the state’s Partnership for Long-Term Care program, you can qualify for Medicaid without spending yourself into poverty. To participate in the Partnership, you must buy a long-term care insurance policy that contains at least the basic benefits required by the Partnership program.

A 1993 federal law prohibits other states from creating Partnership programs, but 16 states have since enacted laws that will establish Partnership programs as soon as the prohibition is lifted.

Each state’s program is different, so be sure to learn the details of your state’s Partnership program before buying a long-term care policy.

In California, for example, the basic benefits include the following:

Interchangeable benefits that can be switched between nursing home care and home care, or a combination of the two.
A deductible that must be met only once in your lifetime.
Inflation protection to insure that benefits keep pace with the rising cost of care.
Waiver of premiums while you are receiving benefits in a nursing home or residential care facility.
Care coordination to assist you in planning and obtaining the services you want and need.

Under the California Partnership program, two types of policies are available–one that covers only benefits delivered in a nursing home or residential care facility, and one that covers comprehensively (at home, in a community facility, in a residential care facility, or in a nursing home).

What’s the benefit of participating in the Partnership? If you live in California, Connecticut, or Indiana, for example, and you

buy a policy under the program,
live in the state while receiving long-term care services, and
receive and exhaust the benefits under the policy for long-term care services,

you can apply for Medicaid benefits even though you haven’t sold and used your assets. Each dollar paid by the insurance company is a dollar of assets you can keep in addition to the minimums permitted by your state’s Medicaid rules.

For example, suppose the long-term care policy has paid $50,000 in benefits; in that case, you can keep $50,000 in investments or savings and still qualify for Medicaid. Without a Partnership long-term care policy, you’d probably have to spend virtually all of that $50,000 (this is called spending down) before you became eligible for Medicaid to pay your long-term care bills. However, even under the Partnership program, although you get to keep your assets, you might still have to use part of your income to pay long-term care expenses.

Connecticut and Indiana have a reciprocity agreement, so that if you buy a policy under one state’s Partnership program and move to the other state, you can obtain the benefits of the other state’s partnership program.
 
 
Insurance Information Institute From http://www.iii.org
 
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