Long-Term Care Insurance Explained
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It might be hard to imagine now, but chances are you’ll need some help taking care of yourself later in life. The big question is: How will you pay for it?
Buying long-term care insurance is one way to prepare. Long-term care refers to a host of services that aren’t covered by regular health insurance. This includes assistance with routine daily activities, like bathing, dressing or getting in and out of bed.
A long-term care insurance policy helps cover the costs of that care when you have a chronic medical condition, a disability or a disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease. Most policies will reimburse you for care given in a variety of places, such as:
A nursing home.
An assisted living facility.
An adult day care center.
Considering long-term care costs is an important part of any long-range financial plan, especially in your 50s and beyond. Waiting until you need care to buy coverage is not an option. You won’t qualify for long-term care insurance if you already have a debilitating condition. Most people with long-term care insurance buy it in their mid-50s to mid-60s.
About half of 65-year-olds today will eventually develop a disability and require some long-term care services, according to a study revised in 2016 by the Urban Institute and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Most will need services for less than two years, but about 14% will require care for more than five years.
Regular health insurance doesn’t cover long-term care. And Medicare won’t come to the rescue, either; it covers only short nursing home stays or limited amounts of home health care when you require skilled nursing or rehab. It does not pay for custodial care, which includes supervision and help with day-to-day tasks.
If you don’t have insurance to cover long-term care, you’ll have to pay for it yourself. You can get help through Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance program for those with low incomes, but only after you’ve exhausted most of your savings.
People buy long-term care insurance for two reasons:
1. To protect savings. Long-term care costs can deplete a retirement nest egg quickly. The median cost of care in a semi-private nursing home room is $89,297 a year, according to Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care Survey.
2. To give you more choices for care. The more money you can spend, the better the quality of care you can get. If you have to rely on Medicaid, your choices will be limited to the nursing homes that accept payments from the government program. Medicaid does not pay for assisted living in many states.
Buying long-term care insurance might not be affordable if you have a low income and little savings. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners says some experts recommend spending no more than 5% of your income on a long-term care policy.
Companies that sell long-term care insurance
The number of insurance companies selling long-term care insurance has plummeted since 2000. More than 100 insurers were selling policies in the late 1990s, according to a 2016 study published by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Less than a dozen are selling policies today.
The uncertain cost of paying future claims as well as low interest rates since the 2008 recession led to the mass exodus from the market. Low interest rates hurt because insurers invest the premiums their customers pay and rely on the returns to make money.
The market is continuing to change. Genworth, one of the largest remaining carriers, suspended sales of individual long-term care insurance through agents and brokers in March 2019. The company sells policies to groups and directly to individual consumers through its own sales department.
Article originally appeared on Nerd Wallet.