Long-term care – a reality check

Published 2:17 pm Friday, February 18, 2011

If you were creating a list of subjects few people want to discuss, it is likely that the pros and cons of having long-term care insurance would occupy a prime position.

It’s not hard to see why.

Who among us wants to confront the notion that one day we may not be able to look after ourselves as we always have? Who easily entertains the idea that long-term care needs may lie ahead?

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Yet, the reality is that nearly two-thirds of Americans over age 65 ultimately will need long-term care services of one kind or another, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That means the majority of us at some point will need home care, adult daycare, assisted living services, visiting nurses or nursing-home care.

In itself, the idea is difficult enough to grasp—but there is another important question: Who is going to pay for this care?

No type of personal care is inexpensive, and costs rise the more intensive services become.

For example, the median annual cost of care in a private room in a nursing home stands at $75,190, according to the 2010 Genworth Cost of Care survey published in April 2010.

Human optimism at work

Erroneous beliefs predominate when it comes to long-term care.

AARP found in a 2006 survey that most Americans over 45 know very little about the subject. Many believe public programs will cover it, but that isn’t so (Medicare doesn’t pay for extended nursing home care; nor does Medigap/Medicare Supplemental Insurance). Most also underestimate the costs, and many believe they have long-term care insurance, when, in reality, they do not.

Studies indicate few Americans place long-term care needs high on a list of concerns. We want to live in our own homes without interference from anyone else.

We hope for good health.

We believe life insurance is needed for our family’s security; we want home insurance, though we’d rather not have a fire. But we don’t expect to ever actually need long-term care insurance.

Weigh the possibilities

Long-term care insurance may not be necessary for everyone—there’s a school of thought that suggests that if your portfolio is ample enough, it might easily absorb any future long-term-care costs without significant damage. Nevertheless, such insurance is clearly the answer for many people, and the younger you are when you sign up, the lower the monthly premiums will be.

In 2007, the average cost was $2,207, but premiums ranged from $881 annually for someone under 40 to $3,026 annually for someone 70 or older.

When considering whether you should investigate the idea of carrying long-term care insurance, keep in mind that quality care may be only part of the overall consideration. Such a policy can also help to create a kind of safety net that shields family members from having to bear unexpected financial burdens.

Stephen P. Poitevint is a registered principal and financial adviser with the firm of Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC, and is located at 908 Tallahassee Hwy., Bainbridge, Ga., and can be contacted at (229) 246-7208 or www.poitevint.com.