Maybe You Don’t Need Long-Term Care Insurance After All

By Ben Steverman
Bloomberg, November 12, 2014

The biggest threat to a retiree’s nest egg isn’t a stock market crash. It’s a long illness requiring round-the-clock care.

The statistics behind that scenario — $81,000 a year for a nursing home, $184,000 for 24-hour home care — are what sells long-term care insurance policies. But while past research suggested that many more people needed the coverage than bought it, a new study suggests that most people should just skip it.

The study, by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, focused on singles, who now make up the majority of Americans. Long-term care insurance makes financial sense only for the richest 20 to 30 percent of unmarried people, it finds. For the rest, it makes more sense to go without. If they need care, spending down their assets and then letting Medicaid pick up the tab is the most practical solution.

Long-term insurance can pay off for wealthier singles, even under the Center’s new math. It takes $260,405 in assets, or about $90,000 in annual income, to put a household in the top 25 percent, the Russell Sage Foundation and the Congressional Research Service estimate. These affluent customers can afford the premiums, and insurance can protect their heirs’ inheritance if that’s a goal. The same logic works for couples, but only if they’re even wealthier. Webb warns that forthcoming research will show long-term care insurance makes even less sense for married couples than it does for singles.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-12/maybe-you-don-t-need-long-term-…

Report from Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:http://crr.bc.edu/briefs/long-term-care-how-big-a-risk/

Mediciad.gov – Community-Based Long-Term Services & Supports:http://www.medicaid.gov/affordablecareact/provisions/community-based-lon…

The Affordable Care Act included Senator Ted Kennedy’s Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act (CLASS Act) which would have provided long-term care. Unfortunately the specifics of the CLASS Act proved to be unworkable and thus it has been suspended. But according to this new study, unless you are wealthy, you do not need long-term care insurance anyway. Most of us can simply spend down our assets and then Medicaid will take care of us.

Think about how that could apply to the increasing use of patient cost-sharing, especially the ever-higher deductibles. We could eliminate individual health insurance coverage. When individuals are faced with expensive acute or chronic conditions, they could simply spend down their assets and then go on Medicaid to cover their future health care costs.

The obvious flaw in all of this is that it would require near destitution for us to have our heath care expenses covered. Other nations automatically cover these expenses for everyone without forcing them to relinquish their assets. It is a sad commentary that we accept the policy that a person must go broke before we will provide them with long-term care. This should not happen in a caring society.

But what are we doing with moderate-income individuals and families right now? We are requiring cost-sharing, especially deductibles, at a level that wipes out liquid assets for many of them, if they even have such assets. Financial hardship has become an expected consequence for far too many people who have significant medical needs. It is primarily wealthier individuals and families who have the assurance of being able to obtain health care without losing their assets.

Long-term care should be covered by our health care financing system, and significant cost-sharing should be eliminated. A single payer system would ensure that all of us could get the care we need, including long-term care, without adverse financial consequences.

If we really do expect that people should use their personal assets to contribute to the financing of health care, do it through estate taxes, but make the taxes equitable, that is, progressive. Do not take away from our seniors what little they have in the final years of their lives.

And do not charge the estate specifically for the amount of health care that was given. We shouldn’t deprive families of their modest inheritances just because medical bills were high late in life. Estate tax rates should not apply to smaller estates, but then the rates should increase with the size of the estate, unrelated to whatever health care costs the family faced. Yes, the rich would pay more, but that’s the way it should work in a caring society.