Business

Are you insured for long-term care?

Caring for her frail 86-year-old mother convinced Linda Miller she should buy long-term care insurance for herself.

Miller, 59, who lives in southeast Charlotte, had been thinking about it for 10 years. Two months ago, she bought a top-of-the-line policy to provide care for as long as she might need it.

“If people think they don't need it, they should visit someone who's taking care of a parent,” Miller said.

Her mother, who lives with her, has Parkinson's Disease, a progressive movement disorder. The elderly woman doesn't have long-term health insurance.

The insurance, which typically covers home health care, assisted living services, adult day care and nursing home care, is becoming more popular with baby boomers like Miller. Last year, the average age of a buyer of the specialized insurance was 57, down from 67 in 2000, according to the American Association for Long-term Care Insurance.

Eight million Americans own long-term care insurance policies, the association says. It's still just a slice of the eligible market, perhaps 10 percent, though experts say that's hard to quantify. They say insurers reject up to 20 percent who apply because of health problems.

Who should buy long-term health insurance? At what age should you purchase? What kind of coverage is best? My husband and I are among legions of aging boomers asking those questions.

Most health-care insurance doesn't cover the costs of nursing home stays or other long-term care for the frail elderly. An exception is Medicaid, which offers those services for low-income seniors.

If you don't qualify for Medicaid or have unlimited savings to set aside for future care, your best bet may be long-term care insurance. The premiums are less expensive and it's easier to qualify if you buy it in your 50s than in your 60s or beyond, according to the AARP and other advocates for older people.

You can tailor a long-term care policy to cover from two to six years, or pay more for unlimited lifetime care. Most older people who need nursing home-type care use it for less than five years at the end of life.

Long-term insurance has gotten better over the past decade because consumers have demanded a wider range of care, including home care, advocates say. As longevity increases, so do the chances of needing care for such incapacitating illnesses as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Experts estimate that 60 percent to 70 percent of 65-year-olds will require some type of long-term care.

Susan Wainscott, who has specialized in long-term care since 1993 and has sold about 2,000 policies, said attitudes have changed over the years. Wainscott, who lives in Winston-Salem, works with customers in the Lake Norman and Cornelius areas.

Wainscott, 59, says fellow boomers pepper her with questions. Many customers are in their 40s or 50s, dealing with elderly relatives.

Daryl Guth of Matthews, who has specialized in long-term care insurance since 2000, has sold about 800 of the policies in the Charlotte area. No two are alike, he said, but the average policy he sells covers four years of care and costs about $1,800 a year in premiums.

“It is quite frankly, a bargain,” he says. Nursing home care in the Charlotte area runs an average of $67,000 a year, and costs are expected to triple in the next two decades. Most customers buy policies with inflation protections.

Guth, who bought his own policy at 39, believes it's best to buy when you're healthy and can fit it into your budget. Premiums can be adjusted yearly for inflation. For those who wait, premium costs rise steeply with age, as do the chances of not qualifying for the insurance. Guth said insurers often turn down people who are substantially overweight or have chronic conditions such as heart disease.

“The poorest advice from financial planners is to put this off until you're 62,” he said. “You'll pay a lot more.”

Not for everyone

Cynthia Anderson, a Charlotte certified financial planner, said, “I don't routinely tell everybody to buy it.”

She said she advises almost all clients in their 60s to get a cost estimate and evaluate the purchase.

“To me the turning point is the 60s,” she said. “If you're older than that, it's difficult to qualify.” And she added, “If you have Alzheimer's in your family, you might want to get there earlier.”

Not all boomers are convinced that long-term care insurance is a good bet. They'd rather put aside money, and hope they don't have to use it for care.

Anne Cooper Schout and her husband, Jim, a retired couple who live in Myers Park, have decided they'll forgo the insurance.

“Self-insurance is what we're going to do,” Anne, 59, said. “We have a personal savings account for health care.”

She said she's hoping she and her husband can take care of each other as they age.

The responsibility

Miller, who has worked as a nurse and real estate agent, is caring for her mother full-time in southeast Charlotte.

She said her mother's illness and her own divorce a few years ago prompted her to buy the insurance. She didn't want her children to have to go through the care-giving issues she's dealt with as the daughter of a severely disabled parent.

She bought a comprehensive policy with a premium of $5,600 a year through Genworth, one of the nation's largest long-term care insurers. It will provide lifetime care, if she needs it, either in her home, an assisted living facility or a nursing home.

She said the purchase has given her peace of mind about her future.

“We really are all responsible for ourselves,” she said.

Caring for her frail 86-year-old mother convinced Linda Miller she should buy long-term care insurance for herself.

Miller, 59, who lives in southeast Charlotte, had been thinking about it for 10 years. Two months ago, she bought a top-of-the-line policy to provide care for as long as she might need it.

“If people think they don't need it, they should visit someone who's taking care of a parent,” Miller said.

Her mother, who lives with her, has Parkinson's Disease, a progressive movement disorder. The elderly woman doesn't have long-term health insurance.

The insurance, which typically covers home health care, assisted living services, adult day care and nursing home care, is becoming more popular with baby boomers like Miller. Last year, the average age of a buyer of the specialized insurance was 57, down from 67 in 2000, according to the American Association for Long-term Care Insurance.

Eight million Americans own long-term care insurance policies, the association says. It's still just a slice of the eligible market, perhaps 10 percent, though experts say that's hard to quantify. They say insurers reject up to 20 percent who apply because of health problems.

Who should buy long-term health insurance? At what age should you purchase? What kind of coverage is best? My husband and I are among legions of aging boomers asking those questions.

Most health-care insurance doesn't cover the costs of nursing home stays or other long-term care for the frail elderly. An exception is Medicaid, which offers those services for low-income seniors.

If you don't qualify for Medicaid or have unlimited savings to set aside for future care, your best bet may be long-term care insurance. The premiums are less expensive and it's easier to qualify if you buy it in your 50s than in your 60s or beyond, according to the AARP and other advocates for older people.

You can tailor a long-term care policy to cover from two to six years, or pay more for unlimited lifetime care. Most older people who need nursing home-type care use it for less than five years at the end of life.

Long-term insurance has gotten better over the past decade because consumers have demanded a wider range of care, including home care, advocates say. As longevity increases, so do the chances of needing care for such incapacitating illnesses as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Experts estimate that 60 percent to 70 percent of 65-year-olds will require some type of long-term care.

Susan Wainscott, who has specialized in long-term care since 1993 and has sold about 2,000 policies, said attitudes have changed over the years. Wainscott, who lives in Winston-Salem, works with customers in the Lake Norman and Cornelius areas.

Wainscott, 59, says fellow boomers pepper her with questions. Many customers are in their 40s or 50s, dealing with elderly relatives.

Daryl Guth of Matthews, who has specialized in long-term care insurance since 2000, has sold about 800 of the policies in the Charlotte area. No two are alike, he said, but the average policy he sells covers four years of care and costs about $1,800 a year in premiums.

“It is quite frankly, a bargain,” he says. Nursing home care in the Charlotte area runs an average of $67,000 a year, and costs are expected to triple in the next two decades. Most customers buy policies with inflation protections.

Guth, who bought his own policy at 39, believes it's best to buy when you're healthy and can fit it into your budget. Premiums can be adjusted yearly for inflation. For those who wait, premium costs rise steeply with age, as do the chances of not qualifying for the insurance. Guth said insurers often turn down people who are substantially overweight or have chronic conditions such as heart disease.

“The poorest advice from financial planners is to put this off until you're 62,” he said. “You'll pay a lot more.”

Not for everyone

Cynthia Anderson, a Charlotte certified financial planner, said, “I don't routinely tell everybody to buy it.”

She said she advises almost all clients in their 60s to get a cost estimate and evaluate the purchase.

“To me the turning point is the 60s,” she said. “If you're older than that, it's difficult to qualify.” And she added, “If you have Alzheimer's in your family, you might want to get there earlier.”

Not all boomers are convinced that long-term care insurance is a good bet. They'd rather put aside money, and hope they don't have to use it for care.

Anne Cooper Schout and her husband, Jim, a retired couple who live in Myers Park, have decided they'll forgo the insurance.

“Self-insurance is what we're going to do,” Anne, 59, said. “We have a personal savings account for health care.”

She said she's hoping she and her husband can take care of each other as they age.

The responsibility

Miller, who has worked as a nurse and real estate agent, is caring for her mother full-time in southeast Charlotte.

She said her mother's illness and her own divorce a few years ago prompted her to buy the insurance. She didn't want her children to have to go through the care-giving issues she's dealt with as the daughter of a severely disabled parent.

She bought a comprehensive policy with a premium of $5,600 a year through Genworth, one of the nation's largest long-term care insurers. It will provide lifetime care, if she needs it, either in her home, an assisted living facility or a nursing home.

She said the purchase has given her peace of mind about her future.

“We really are all responsible for ourselves,” she said.

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