Most of us will buy health insurance and insurance for home, car and other property replacement. However, few people think to buy long-term care insurance, and assume that their savings will be sufficient to meet any associated expenses. In fact, long-term care can be very expensive and can deplete a lifetime of savings within a few years. In this article, we discuss some of the features of long-term care insurance, the benefits and the factors that may affect your choice of insurance provider.

Who Needs Long-Term Care
Long-term care is typically needed by the elderly, but it is also required by anyone with a debilitating illness or injury who needs assistance to perform everyday functions, such as feeding oneself, bathing and getting dressed.

Like other services covered by insurance, long-term care insurance must be purchased before the insured requires the services covered under the policy. This means that many individuals will purchase the policy and never benefit from it. The likelihood of this happening is greater among younger individuals, whose chances of requiring long-term care are lower. Consequently, some financial professionals recommend that only individuals closer to ages 50 to 65 purchase long-term care insurance, as these individuals are more likely to benefit from the purchase of a policy.

If you are employed, you may want to check with your employer regarding coverage, as most employers provide long-term care insurance for their employees, and some will even extend coverage to parents of their employees. If you are already covered under an employer-sponsored policy, then you may not need to purchase a separate policy until after you retire. (For more insight, see LTC Coverage Not A No-Brainer.)

Cost of Long-Term Care Insurance
The cost of long-term care insurance is usually determined by factors such as the type of policy, the age of the insured and the time period the policy covers. Naturally, policies that provide coverage for an unlimited period will cost more than policies that provide coverage for a limited period. Policies purchased at an early age are less costly than policies purchased later, because a younger person is more likely to pay premiums for a longer time. The cost of the policy may also be affected by the preferred location of the service - whether in-home, at a nursing home or at some other facility providing professional care - and whether the coverage is comprehensive or basic, as defined by the policy.

Things to Look for in a Long-Term Care Policy
When you purchase long-term care insurance, you must pay attention to what the policy covers. For instance, the definition of disability may differ among plans: it can vary from a condition that makes an individual unable to perform simple everyday functions, such as getting dressed, to certain medical problems as defined by the policy. Here are some other features you should consider before you choose your long-term care insurance:

  • Inflation protection
    Does the policy include an inflation protection feature? This ensures premiums do not increase, or at least limits the rate at which they do increase, even if the cost of long-term care increases.
  • Deductible
    Does the policy include a deductible, and if so, how does it define it? The definition of deductible may include dollar amounts and/or a period of coverage. For instance, the insured may be required to pay expenses out of his or her pocket for a certain number of days, as defined by the deductible.
  • Coverage
    Coverage is the amount of expenses covered by the policy. Some policies will pay up to a certain amount per day. This could affect the type of care you choose - whether in-home or at a professionally-run facility - and the care provider you choose, depending on their fees. Higher coverage usually means a higher premium. Whatever the costs involved, you need to be aware of coverage so that there are no surprises when you need the benefits.
  • Period of coverage
    A plan may limit coverage to a certain number of years. Additional coverage may require additional premiums.

Benefits of Purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance
If the need for long-term care arises and you don't have insurance, the associated costs may have to be paid out of personal savings or financed by loved ones. If you are unable to afford the cost of hiring care providers, family members may be required to assist you, which means they may have to take unpaid leave from work. By purchasing long-term care insurance, you help to ensure that any costs associated with your care are covered, thereby lessening the financial burden on yourself and your family.

Conclusion
It may be beneficial to purchase your long-term care insurance at an early age, as the premiums are usually lower for younger individuals. However, remember that long-term care insurance is not for everyone and is usually purchased by younger individuals only when they have a history of family illness that is covered under these policies. Bear in mind that coverage may be denied if the potential insured is already at a stage that requires long-term care.

For example, if someone already has Alzheimer's disease, he or she may no longer be eligible for long-term care insurance. Finally, remember that paying premiums is less costly than paying long-term expenses out of your pocket. Before purchasing a policy, be sure to compare rates, features and benefits offered by different insurance companies, independent brokers and so on. More importantly, consult with your estate or financial planner and/or attorney about the choices that are appropriate for you and your family.

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