Plan ahead to pay for long-term care
Nancy Wright Beasley, a Virginia retiree, is years away from living in a retirement community or needing long-term care, but every year she funds a long-term care insurance policy. It’s not only a sound investment; it gives Beasley peace of mind.
“My policy ensures I won’t become a financial burden on my children,” Beasley said. “As I age, the coverage gives assurance I’ll have my needs met as long as I live, since I bought a policy with lifetime benefits.”
Most Americans over the age of 65 will need long-term care for daily activities such as dressing, bathing and eating. Relying on a spouse or family to help — especially in cases of chronic illness — often isn’t adequate.
The median retirement savings of $126,000 for those aged 65 to 74 can’t cover the more than $50,000 annual cost of a home health care aide or the $100,000-plus price of a private room in a nursing home. And private insurance and Medicare don’t pay for assisted living or so-called “custodial” expenses.
Fortunately, long-term care insurance presents a viable option. Paying a monthly premium now can ensure coverage in later years.
As you prepare for your eventual long-term care needs, it is important to identify not only the best policy for you but also the ideal skilled nursing facility.
Useful websites that rate facilities
The websites Medicare.gov and CMS.gov provide comparisons of nursing facilities based on annual evaluations. Visitors can search by location, type of facility (including dialysis centers and home-health services), or the names and locations of facilities. (Note: Medicare regulates clinical-nursing facilities but not assisted-living centers. For those, go to the department of human services website. For Baltimore City, visit dhs.maryland.gov/localoffices/baltimore-city; for Baltimore County, visit dhs.maryland.gov/local-offices/baltimore-county.)
U.S. News & World Report offers helpful costs, ratings and reviews at health.usnews.com from residents and their loved ones as well as staff at skilled-nursing facilities. Its website redirects its visitors to many other sites, such as verywellhealth.com, for ratings.
At each redirection, though, be aware of potential conflicts of interest. The site may receive a commission on the products recommended.
“Third-party rankings [outside of CMS and CARF, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities] vary greatly in their criteria and depth of knowledge of senior living communities and levels of living,” said Lindsay Hutter, spokesperson for Goodwin House, which has assisted-living and clinical-nursing facilities in Alexandria and Bailey’s Crossroads.
Get help finding the best facilities
If researching facilities on your own proves overwhelming, expert guidance is available: A local long-term care consulting company can help. Long-term care consultants will tour a facility with the family. More importantly, they’re familiar with facilities that aren’t widely known or publicized, such as personal-care homes, which are licensed but are smaller than most clinical-nursing facilities.
Linda Carruthers, with Long-Term Care Consultants in Richmond, advises anyone considering a facility seek the assistance of a professional who is usually independent of specific insurance policies and facilities but doesn’t necessarily charge consumers a fee.
Rating long-term care insurance policies
While ratings exist for assisted-living and long-term care facilities, they’re nonexistent for insurance policies that might help pay for them. One way to research different policies is to hire a certified financial planner to help; the other is to compare policies on your own.
“If you determine an insurance policy is the right solution … check the financial strength of the insurance company [via] ‘strength’ measures [A.M. Best, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s], then check … their claim-paying history,” said Adam Rex, a certified financial planner with Cornerstone Financial Services.
As a starting point, Rex recommends the website aaltci.org for consolidated information on various insurance carriers. But the site can be biased, he points out, since it touts members of its organization, the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.
“It pays to compare,” Rex said. “Indexes have found that rates for virtually identical coverage could vary by over 110 percent. The yearly savings can be substantial.”
No insurance company will pay for assisted-living accommodations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live in assisted living on your own dime and take advantage of some long-term-care insurance-policy provisions.
As you research ways to pay for assisted living, it’s worth considering life insurance or an annuity with long-term-care benefits, which allows money not used for care to be left to heirs. A down payment is typically required. Your policy’s professional consultant can help you determine which type of policy best suits your needs.
Patience, planning ahead
Once you have a long-term care policy, keep in mind that more is involved in filing claims than simply filling out insurance company’s forms. Paperwork is the individual policyholder’s burden: Carruthers said she sometimes had to fax forms to four different departments in the same agency. Patience is necessary.
Be sure to give a copy of your LTC policy, along with a power-of-attorney and a medical directive, to a trusted family member or friend in case you can’t speak for yourself. Appoint a medical coordinator (perhaps your primary-care physician), who can manage your care and assess what’s needed.
‘Prudent financial sense’
Long-term care is inevitable for most of us. Preparing in advance can make paying for care easier for everyone involved.
According to Jesse Slome, director of the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance, “It’s a 50-50 probability that someone getting long-term care insurance at age 65 will use their coverage. We insure our homes even though we know the risk of a house fire is far less than 50-50.
“The risk of needing care as we age is significantly high … and having some protection in place makes prudent financial sense.”
For more information about long-term care insurance policies, call (818) 597-3227 or visit aaltci.org.