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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.

But if you’re under 85—and especially if you’re under 65—that 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 of applicants in their 50s, 19 percent in their 60s and 43 percent in their 70s were rejected.





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 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:


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


Source:  Insurance Information Institute



Long Term Care Insurance Features


Key LTC Insurance Words

Inflation Protection

Elimination Period

Waiver of Premium

Third-party Notification

Nonforfeiture Benefits

Restoration of Benefits

Activities of Daily Living

Assisted Living Facility

Cognitive Impairment

Custodial Care