The Rising Cost of Long-Term-Care Insurance

Today’s WSJ article “Long-Term-Care Insurance Gap Hits Seniors” should provide plenty of motivation for anyone who may be inclined to skimp on their savings.

The long-term-insurance industry now is shrinking, premiums are soaring and there is no fix in sight. At the same time, government safety-net programs, already under cost-cutting pressure, are bracing for demand from more of the 77 million aging baby boomers.

Currently, Medicare pays for only short stays in nursing homes or in-home care under limited conditions. For the most part, seniors who need care have to burn through their savings to pay for it. Only after they are impoverished will Medicaid—the government health program for poor people—pay for a basic level of care.

Insurers have been aware of this gap for decades, and many began selling long-term-care policies in the 1980s and 1990s. They vowed to provide policyholders with better access to high-quality nursing homes and home-based health care than Medicaid.

But insurers underestimated how fast medical costs would rise, and how many seniors would actually use the benefits. And they underpriced the insurance premiums. Making matters worse, some insurers that were “hungry for market share” charged too little at first and planned to increase premiums later, says Joseph M. Belth, editor of the Insurance Forum newsletter and professor emeritus of insurance at Indiana University.

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