A New Jersey friend of mine (I’ll call her Eileen), was in the market for long-term care insurance. I say “was” because the process of shopping for it turned her stone cold, and now she’s on hold.
After hours of research, “I couldn’t find anything to buy, no actual policies,” she complained, “nothing but general reviews and comparisons. No real details.”
“It was maddening!” she continued. “I buy lots of stuff and can always find actual, concrete products and prices. Not so with long-term care insurance! All you can find is general information and links to other sites. Nothing real. Nothing concrete. No items, brands, features or prices to consider and compare..”
Her initial interest in long-term care insurance was in no way casual. She was ready to buy. Her parents had recently died after years of expensive care, wiping out most of their assets. She did not want the same fate for her husband and herself.
Long-term care insurance would significantly reduce their risks, she believed, letting them breathe easy. But her hunt for a policy proved futile.
She admitted that many sites offered free quotes, "but that's not what I want," she said. "That only brings phone calls from people I don't know. I want to explore actual policies with actual features and prices before talking with anybody, just the way I shop for everything else.""
I asked her to elaborate. "Exactly how does your normal shopping compare with your LTC shopping experience?
Her most recent purchase, she said, was a trampoline for their backyard, to entertain their grandchildren when they visited. “It was easy,” she said. “I just did an online search and found several options – complete with pictures, prices, customer ratings, everything.”
We reconstructed her search and I took the screenshot below (from Amazon.com), which shows some of the offerings.
“Any bigger ticket items?” I asked. “Major things you’re looking to buy?”
"I'm in the market for a new house and a new car,” she said.
Eileen and her husband are 63 and 65 respectively. They are planning to "semi-retire" soon and relocate to a lakeside community in upstate New York. “We’ll need a place with enough room for our new business and for our kids and grandkids when they visit. And we’ll need a second car. I’ve been looking at lots of options for both."
"Compared to long-term care insurance," she said, "shopping for these has been duck soup."
We reconstructed a couple of her searches. The screenshot below (from Zillow.com) shows a few of the homes she's found for sale in Mayville, NY, bordering Lake Chautauqua.
“You see what turned me off so much when I looked for LTC insurance?" she asked. "With the trampoline, the house, and the car, it was a piece of cake. I could get specifics with no trouble. Actual things to consider and plunk my money down for."
"Looking for long-term care policies was completely opposite," she continued. "It was like playing ping-pong with a fuzzy, make-believe ball. Nothing to swing at or score points with.”
We reconstructed one of her searches for LTC policies. The screenshot below shows advice from the federal government’s official LTC insurance site, http://longtermcare.gov/costs-how-to-pay/what-is-long-term-care-ins.... This is a top site that appears when people enter search terms such as "long term care insurance," "long term care policies," or "long term care insurance New York."
Note that a lot of helpful information is available, but it’s all general. To help citizens find actual policies with actual costs, the site passes the baton to the states. Clicking on “your state’s department of insurance” brings visitors to whatever official information is available in the state of interest, such as California.
The California Department of Insurance site (insurance.ca.gov) offers a comprehensive but daunting array of information and links, followed by more information and more links. All of it general and advisory.
Eileen and I never found any specific policy offerings, so we tried to find an agency that in turn might offer a selection of policies. We ended up at the site shown below, where we entered Hollywood as the target area. The search turned up just one agency, the Shepherd insurance Agency.
Success! Now we could click through to the agency and see what they had to offer.
Unfortunately, the Shepherd agency (shepardinsurance.com) was unsuited to our purposes, though probably a great company otherwise. They offer many insurance types, from auto to homeowner to earthquake, but not LTC insurance!
“See?” said Eileen, “it’s maddening!” I was starting to appreciate where she was coming from, and agreed.
“You’re right,” I said, “you actually CAN'T shop for LTC insurance, at least not easily.”
Reflecting for a moment, I said, “It used to be that way, pretty much, with health insurance, before the Affordable Care Act. It was very hard to shop for actual policies. About all you could do was put yourself in the hands of an insurance agency or insurance carrier, or accept the plan available from your employer.”
“Now, with the ACA," I continued, "you can go to healthcare.gov or a state marketplace, such as coveredca.com, click Shop and Compare, and consider actual policies from actual Carriers.” See the screenshot below.
A trial inquiry delivered several options for actual health insurance plans, with actual costs and even star ratings! A sampling is shown below.
“OK,” said Eileen. “It would be great if that type of thing were available for LTC insurance. And maybe it will someday. But I can’t wait. I need a policy NOW.”
“Right now," I said. "Your best bet is to give up shopping for an actual LTC POLICY, and shop instead for an LTC AGENT.”
I advised her to seek a state-licensed agent (or broker) who represents multiple carriers, not just one. "Don’t limit yourself to just one company's offerings," I said. "You want a range of choices to get the best protection for the best cost. So look for an impartial, broad-based expert who can, in effect, comparison shop for you."
"I know it's not what you're used to," I added, "but the right person can probably do a better job of comparison shopping than you could do on your own."
Eileen was silent for a moment, reflecting. She took a deep breath. “Okay, she said, “I’ll give it another shot, maybe tomorrow.”
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Author’s note: Eileen is a person I made up to represent millions who suffer similar frustration. LTC insurance really is hard to shop for, a fact that may help explain why only about 10% of those who could benefit from a policy have one, according to industry estimates.
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Dick Samson is Director of the LTC Guild, a network where long-term care and allied professionals meet, form local chapters, plan meetings, and share information with the public. He also serves as a public relations consultant in the LTC and related fields.