A Cautionary Tale of the Long Term Care Insurance Marketplace
By 2050, the U.S. will have almost 90 million people aged 65 and over, and more than half will need long-term care at some point. Yet only a sliver of that group can afford long term care insurance. As of 2015, private insurance covered less than 10 percent of U.S. spending on long-term care — and the private market has been shrinking.
Medicare covers only a short period of care after a person has been hospitalized. That leaves Medicaid, the state-administered program for long term care. The paperwork involved is a protracted ordeal, especially for those with physical and mental impairments, and the rules to qualify are strict and complex.
The reality is – the private insurance market is on life support so understanding Medicaid is critical. Schedule an appointment to learn the rules.
Nothing illustrates this more than General Electric and its Long Term Care Products. The company’s troubles with long-term-care insurance show the challenge of caring for an aging population.
General Electric’s multi-billion-dollar loss in a unit that sold long-term-care insurance is a blow from which the iconic company is still reeling. But it’s also a harbinger of a much greater challenge for society at large: paying to care for the growing number of Americans who can’t look after themselves.
GE’s travails stem from the early 1990s, when insurance companies began developing a new line of business, offering policies that, in return for regular premium payments, would cover the cost of a nursing home or other long-term care if the need arose. With the baby-boom generation approaching retirement, sales took off. By 2007, some 7 million policies were in force, generating almost $10 billion a year in premiums.
The insurers miscalculated. Claimants lived longer than expected — perhaps because people prudent enough to buy the insurance were more careful about staying healthy. But longer lives meant more people needing long-term care. Medical costs rose, and investment returns fell short. To cover their obligations, companies had to increase premiums (as far as regulators allowed) and, like GE, take big charges against earnings. Penn Treaty was forced into liquidation, leaving policy holders to rely on meager state guaranty funds.
Tempting as it may be to blame regulators, that wouldn’t be fair. True, they could have allowed more premium increases sooner, and they should always demand that companies have ample equity to absorb losses. They’ll need to investigate GE’s accounting. But new insurance products are inherently risky, and companies are bound to make mistakes. Officials shouldn’t be expected to catch risks that actuaries can’t foresee.
Rather, the debacle illustrates a troubling truth: Private insurance can’t handle this problem by itself.
Understanding the rules as to the Medicaid program is critical for all persons. Failure to anticipate long term care nursing costs can wipe out an entire lifetime of savings. Call us to discuss how to protect your lifetime savings while still qualifying for Medicaid.
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