Here are some tips from the experts on how to begin:
Plan well in advance. Involve your family and support system. Look at your health status and at your family history, said Brian Weinstein, the long-term care insurance trainer for SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) for Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs.
SHINE has volunteers throughout Florida that offer seniors free counseling and workshops on health insurance matters.
“If you have an idea of what state you will retire to, look at the average costs of care in that area,” he said.
Avoid common mistakes
People wait too long, then don’t have the health to get it or it’s ridiculously expensive, Kaskel said. Or people just don’t buy enough — their assets are doing well, so they think they don’t need it, she said.
“There is a need to shop around, because it’s not standardized,” Weinstein said. “There are many different options in policies that affect the price and that determine the end benefit.”
Start shopping around age 52, Kaskel said. Most people purchase in their mid-50s. The industry average is 52 to 64.
“It’s not only money that buys long-term care, it’s good health,” she said. You don’t have to have perfect health, but long-term care premiums are cheaper when you’re younger because you’re likely to have health issues as you age, Kaskel said.
Besides age and health, married or same-sex couples can get cheaper rates than singles, because chances are greater that a loved one will care for them and there will be less reliance on long-term care, she said.
One couple in their 40s bought after the woman’s father developed Alzheimer’s at age 64, she said. Another client, a 52-year-old single woman with no kids, bought long-term care after her 82-year-old needed one-on-one care in her home. “She bought it for herself after she saw what her mom went through,” Kaskel said.
Howard Schwartz, owner of Schwartz Family Home Care in Lauderdale Lakes, a nurse registry that refers home health caregivers to homes and hospitals, said about 60 percent of his clients have long-term care insurance.
“It’s a crap shoot,” whether you’ll ever need it, he said. “People feel good when they have it.”
Do your research
Check out an insurance company’s financials on websites such as www.ambest.com, www.moodys.com or www.standardandpoors.com to make sure they have the reserves not to repeatedly raise your rates, Kaskel said. Also look at their history of rate increases. Research care costs in your state, or where you want to retire. A nursing home in South Florida may cost $6,000 a month, while a similar facility in New York could cost $10,000. Policies are portable from state to state in the United States. Some are portable internationally, Kaskel said.
The state does have a guaranty if a company fails, but “it might not be the full benefit, and it might be tedious to go through,” Schwartz said.
Like homeowners or health insurance, premiums for long-term care can go up. Most insurance companies will raise their rates 5 to 10 percent at a time, but last year, John Hancock raised its rates 72 percent on some policies, Kaskel said. “It was a real shocker, even though it hadn’t had a rate increase in 12 years,” she said.