JANUARY 27, 1997 VOLUME 4, NUMBER 30
With nursing home costs approaching $40,000 per year for most residents, the government’s Medicaid program has for decades been the “safety net” for families with long-term care needs. In recent years, escalating Medicaid costs and increases in the portion of national nursing home bill paid by the program have resulted in Congressional efforts to reduce Medicaid eligibility and coverage. Prudent elders should be considering other ways to ensure that nursing home stays can be paid for if needed.
A relative handful of individuals have long-term care available from religious or service group affiliations. Another small portion of the population can rely on government programs other than Medicaid, but for most elders the only alternatives are to accumulate substantial personal wealth (a common goal, though sometimes difficult to realize) or purchase long-term care insurance (LTCI).
A recent review of LTCI purchasing strategies by Elder Law Forum (a newsletter published by Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Inc., and sponsored by AARP) points out some of the considerations for typical buyers. The review makes several points for the “typical” LTCI buyer:
- About half of 65-year-old women and a third of the men will spend some time in a nursing home.
- Most nursing home stays will be short, with the median length of institutionalization being slightly less than one year.
- LTCI premiums currently average about $1,000 per year for 60-year-olds, and rise to $1,500 for 65-year-olds and $2,000 for 70-year-olds.
If you (or a relative or client) are concerned about long-term care costs, some pertinent questions to consider include:
- When should you buy? The average age of new policyholders is currently 67. Many employers now offer group plans, and a few younger people may buy policies. But for most people, waiting until age 60 to make the purchase is probably reasonable.
- Should both a husband and wife buy policies? In many cases, one spouse or the other may be uninsurable due to illness or age. The “well” spouse should particularly consider LTCI, since she (most commonly) is likely to survive the “ill” spouse, and therefore have no spouse to care for her. Of course, this is another way of saying that the well spouse is likely to spend some considerable time providing care for the ill, uninsurable spouse, as well.
- Does family history matter? If a potential LTCI buyer has a family history of strokes, high blood pressure, dementia, Parkinson’s or other conditions likely to require long-term care, insurance is more strongly indicated. Such persons should make the initial purchase at younger ages, since the onset of disability will usually make them uninsurable.
- Does net worth make a difference? Couples with a net worth of less than $100,000 (not counting the family home), and individuals worth less than $50,000, may not need to consider LTCI, since (current) Medicaid rules will permit them to receive government assistance within a year or two of nursing home admission. Prospective LTCI buyers with large estates may not need the insurance, particularly if their estates generate $40,000 in annual income over and above their (or their spouse’s) other living expenses. In other words, LTCI is primarily of interest to the middle-class elderly.
- How important are individual policy provisions? Very. Some policies provide excellent coverage for home health care, while others do not; a policy without home care provisions might unnecessarily force the owner into an institution.
A checklist for comparison shoppers can help frame some of the issues. For a helpful checklist, contact FLEMING & CURTI at the fax, e-mail or street address below.
330 N. Granada Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85701
520-622-0400 / FAX: 520-203-0240