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Should You Purchase Long-Term-Care Insurance?

Long-term-care insurance. It's a subject most people don't want to think about—but many people know they need to.

At first blush, policies that help pay the costs of extended nursing care make perfect sense. Bills add up quickly when you can no longer take care of yourself and your needs exceed what family and friends can provide. Nursing homes, assisted-living centers and home care all are expensive, and there is no telling for how long you may need the service. Buying a long-term-care insurance policy can be a way of making sure your future physical needs will be met. Policies designed in partnership with state governments also give individuals and their families a way to protect savings in the event of burdensome care costs that stretch on for years.

Being financially ready for the possibility that you will require long-term care is an important part of retirement planning. But too many people are still preparing merely by hoping for the best.

For anyone 65 and older, the odds are not in your favor. Statistics show 70% of those who reach 65 will need long-term care. With long-term care costing as much as $250 a day, it doesn't take long to completely deplete a lifetime of savings—even if you're "lucky" enough to only need it for a relatively short period of time.

The biggest misconception is that Medicare covers long-term care. It does not.

For those who buy and keep their policy it is a no-regret proposition. No one who has paid premiums and receives their benefits from the policy regrets having paid those premiums. And no one ever regrets being fortunate enough to never need those benefits.

The sad fact, though, is that only seven million to eight million people have bought the insurance so far. The market should be at least twice that size by now. Certain misconceptions, and some wishful thinking, are holding it back.

Some Misconceptions

The biggest misconception is that Medicare covers long-term care. It does not. Medicaid, meanwhile, pays for various kinds and amounts of long-term-care services and support—for the poor. But many states are cutting back on Medicaid benefits, and access to good care is always uncertain.

That isn't to say long-term-care insurance is right for everyone. It's not. The wealthy can be reasonably sure their savings will be enough to pay directly for long-term care, whatever its duration. And despite concerns about quality, Medicaid is there for the poor.

But what about consumers with midlevel savings—in other words, most people? These consumers need long-term-care insurance the most. They tend to have too little savings to pay for even a couple of years of care without impoverishing themselves and their families, and too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The important thing to understand is that there are a wide range of policies offering different degrees of security, but all preferable to taking the chance of being financially decimated. According to estimates done by the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, a typical couple buying a shared policy providing immediate benefits worth $328,500 at age 55 pays an annual premium averaging $2,700. By age 80 their joint benefit has grown to $708,000 with the built-in inflation protection. Alternatively, a typical couple buying a shared policy with $219,000 of coverage could reduce their premium by about 20% to 25%. That's a viable option for those who are worried about this risk. If more coverage is affordable, buy more coverage. But some is better than none.

In theory, it's true, if a person invested $3,500 a year instead of using it to pay insurance premiums, the investment might grow enough to cover any eventual long-term-care bill. But as nice as it sounds, most people simply won't set aside additional savings for long-term-care needs. Moreover, savings of $3,500—should the need for care come sooner than expected—will pay for only $3,500 of care.

Partnership Policies

In a worst-case scenario, a person in nursing care might outlive by many years the coverage that they purchased, wiping out his or her savings. People especially concerned about this might consider so-called Partnership Policies, developed by private insurers and state governments and offered in 40 states. These plans let people qualify for Medicaid's long-term-care benefits while they still have a good amount of savings to spend on other things or leave for their family. (Normally, a person can have no more than $2,000 in savings for Medicaid to pay their long-term-care costs.)

Partnership plans that offer to protect savings of up to $100,000, for example, will pay up to $100,000 in benefits. Then, if the purchaser has savings of more than $100,000, he or she becomes responsible for their long-term-care costs until their savings are reduced to $100,000. At that point, Medicaid will take over the expenses.

If you are interested in long term care coverage and it's costs, we can offer you many options.  Call us at 281-558-2210 or email Suzanne@SuzanneBrownAgency.com

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