With people living longer than ever before, more and more seniors require long-term healthcare services in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. However, such care is extremely expensive, especially when it’s needed for extended periods of time.
Traditional healthcare insurance doesn’t cover such services, and though Medicare does pay for some long-term care, it’s quite limited, difficult to qualify for, and requires you to deplete nearly all of your assets before being eligible (though proactive estate planning can help shield your assets). To address this gap in coverage, long-term care insurance was created.
First introduced as “nursing home insurance” in the 1980s, this type of insurance is designed to cover expenses associated with long-term skilled nursing services delivered in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or other senior care setting, though some of today’s policies cover care delivered in your own home as well.
Such intensive care is required when you are no longer able to care for yourself, often in the later stages of your life. These policies cover the cost of skilled nursing services that support you with basic self-care tasks, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, walking, and using the bathroom. These are known as activities of daily living (ADLs).
Before your coverage kicks in, most policies require that you demonstrate you have lost the ability to engage in at least two or three ADLs. Most policies also have a deductible, or elimination period, which is a set number of days that must elapse between the time you become disabled (eligible for benefits) and the time your coverage kicks in.
Many policies offer a 90-day elimination period, but others can be longer, shorter, or even have no elimination period at all. Of course, the shorter the elimination period, the more expensive the premium.
Additionally, long-term care policies typically come with a predetermined benefit period, which is the number of years of care it will pay for. A benefit period of three to five years, for example, is a quite common duration for such policies. Most policies also come with a cap on the dollar amount of coverage that will be paid for care on a daily basis, known as a daily benefit amount.
Obviously, the younger and healthier you are when you buy the policy, the cheaper the premiums will be, so the sooner you invest in coverage, the better. In fact, most policies exclude certain pre-existing conditions, so if you wait until you become ill, it can be impossible to find coverage.
Increasing Premiums, Decreasing Benefits
With the elderly population booming, there has been a surge in demand for long-term care services, which has led to a marked increase in the cost of such policies. At the same time, many insurers have been cutting back on the benefits their policies offer.
If you are looking to purchase long-term care insurance, you should speak with multiple insurance providers and compare their benefits, care options, and premiums. Different companies may offer the same coverage and benefits, but they can vary dramatically in price. Always ask about the insurance company’s history of rate increases, including the amount of the most recent increase.
For the best chances of success when shopping for a policy, get help from a fee-only planner, who is not compensated based on your choice of coverage. When meeting with an insurance provider, you must get answers to following three questions about your policy:
- How long is the elimination period before the policy begins paying benefits?
- What capacities, or ADLs, must you lose before coverage kicks in?
- How many years of care are covered?
Buying long-term care insurance should be a family affair, because you are going to need your family members to advocate for you and file a claim for the policy when you need to use it. Given this, make sure your family knows what kind of policy you have, who your agent is, and how to make a claim.
What’s more, you should pre-authorize the right person to speak to the insurance company on your behalf, and not just rely on a power of attorney. That said, you should definitely have a well-drafted, updated, and regularly reviewed power of attorney on file as well.
Keep Your Policy Updated
Once you are in your 40s, your long-term care policy should be reviewed annually to evaluate new insurance products on the market and update your policy based on your changing needs. And whatever you do, once you have a policy in place, make sure you don’t miss a premium payment, because if you stop paying, even for a short period of time, you’ll lose all of the money you invested and will have no access to the benefits when you need them.