Long-Term Care Policies Undergo Drmatic Change

By Kristoff, Kathy | THE JOURNAL RECORD, June 30, 1993 | Go to article overview

Long-Term Care Policies Undergo Drmatic Change


Kristoff, Kathy, THE JOURNAL RECORD


The issue of long-term care has become a vital component in the nation's health care debate as America's rapidly aging population looks forward to growing older, sicker and more likely to need costly long-term help.

However, the chance of the federal government coming to the rescue with the billions needed to pay for extended care for the elderly is practically nil, experts say. That's because Congress is already balking at raising taxes for other federal spending programs. Ponying up for long-term care just isn't in the cards, according to Washington insiders.

But there is some good news for elderly Americans who are worried about the cost of nursing homes and home-based health care. Insurers are offering the best long-term care policies in history _ often as the result of state legislation mandating such improvements.

In California, for example, long-term care regulation went into effect this January that required virtually every insurer in the state to revamp. Significantly, all long-term-care policies sold in California must now pay for home-based care _ even if that care is provided by a friend or relative _ as opposed to simply paying for care provided in nursing homes and by licensed care providers.

Another 48 states have also enacted reforms, ranging from relatively minor changes to massive shifts that require insurers to provide a plethora of bells and whistles to every policyholder.

All of this is a sweeping departure from the long-term care policies sold only a few years ago.

"There has been fairly dramatic change in the last two or three years in both the quality and the variety of products available," said David L. Potter, a second vice president at UNUM Life Insurance Co. in Portland, Me. "Because of new competition, the prices are getting more competitive too."

Not surprisingly, sales of these policies have also skyrocketed in the past few years, according to the Health Insurance Association of America. Since 1987, the number of policies sold has grown by an average of 31.5 percent per year to roughly 2.4 million in 1991. Statistics for 1992 are not yet available, but the association expects the growth to continue at roughly the same rapid clip.

Still, where roughly three-quarters of the nation's senior citizens have so-called Medigap insurance, which extends and expands Medicare coverage, only about 4 percent have long-term-care policies, said Stephen A. Moses, director of research for LTC Inc., a Kirkland, Wash.-based insurance agency.

The fact that more than 95 percent of this market remains untapped is one of the reasons some insurers are voluntarily going beyond state laws to improve their policies. …

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