Friday, June 27, 2008

Retirement Planning and Fidelity's Long-Term Care Insurance Estimates

Recently, Fidelity, the mutual fund giant began surveying insurance providers asking how much long-term care insurance you might need to calculate into a retirement strategy, often referred to as a plan. In truth though, it is only a strategy that if followed over the course of a great many years, develops into what looks to be a well thought-out plan. Plans seem so inflexible. (I travel deeply into this jungle in the tenth chapter of the book Retirement Planning for the Utterly Confused.)

Mark Meiners, director of the Center for Health Policy, Research and Ethics in the College of Nursing and Health Science at George Mason University says “Unfortunately, many Americans falsely believe that their long-term care costs will be covered by Medicaid, but this is true only after they’ve spent themselves into impoverishment.”
As I write in the book, “I can tell you two things for sure. Social Security and Medicare will not pay for your long-term care.

“Most insurance companies use a fairly straightforward criterion when making the decision to pay the insured for their claim. The insurer will require a certified and licensed health provider do a determination of “chronically ill”.
“What is chronically ill you ask? Generally this refers to someone who is incapable of performing at least two daily activities of living such as feeding themselves, bathing and toiletry activities or someone who requires substantial supervision. This is often referred to as an ADL or Activity of Daily Living.
“Sounds simple enough but insurance companies rarely have fixed guidelines when it comes to triggering the policy. Policies can be written to cover a variety of care situations and you must determine this at the time of policy execution. Problem is how do you know what you will need. Will your policy need to cover a nursing home stay, of which a portion of the total is reimbursed over a preset time period?”

That said, I think everyone considering this kind of a policy read the book, I will take what Fidelity has suggested and see if it passes muster.

Fidelity recommends that folks considering a long-term care policy narrow the search to six categories, each with its own characteristics.

1) A policy premium that fits comfortably within a family’s financial means.

At first glance this sounds like a relatively easy target but the main problem with retirement and the saving for it, those premiums can eat up a good deal of potential retirement cash. Finding the right balance between saving and tossing the cash to an insurance policy, that is cheaper the earlier you buy it, can be so difficult to determine that most folks who may need it will pass on the chance.

Fidelity writes that, “Investors should carefully forecast their ability to pay the premiums year after year.” I think is both bold and wrongheaded by a mutual fund company to refer to insurance as investment. Insurance is not a liquid asset.

Bottom line: Figure about $200 a month if you are fifty years old, in good health and have prioritized all of your other insurance products based on risk. A 65-year-old might pay as much as $350.

2) Backing by a carrier with a strong track record of paying claims.

I have argued this topic over the past months with numerous people in the field. Fidelity offers this piece of advice: “The ability to receive policy benefits depends on the integrity of the company and its history of financial strength.” This is huge unknown since so few are actually in the position to pay out on claims. Once the baby Boomers retire en masse, it will be difficult to switch policies if your insurer turns out to be financially unable to handle a sudden increase in claimants. Like all insurance products, the gamble is on both ends, with the insurer and the policyholder.

3) Comprehensive coverage that covers in-home as well as facilities-based care.

Fidelity found that families want “flexibility in terms of the services they opt for when facing a long term care challenge.” Remember, this kind of flexibility will cost you extra. Few folks calculate in the inflation factor and/or whether the facility will keep you. Most folks would rather stay at home.

4) A benefit period of at least 2, but no more than 4 years, for each person.

Most people split the difference.

The numbers Fidelity analyzed are not so bad in terms of how they were gathered. But consider this. Most disability policies run for five years. The data they collected “on over 6 million long-term care insurance policies sold between 1984 and 2004, found that 75 percent of all individuals would not have exhausted benefits lasting 2 years. A 4-year benefit period would have been adequate 90 percent of the time.”

Sometimes, companies will separate the policy into nursing home or in-home care coverage but the lifetime benefit is easily calculated by multiplying the benefit times the policy coverage period.

Like many policies that have a wide swath of unknown territory to deal with, such as LTC policies, there is generally a waiting period before the policy kicks in. Because Medicare covers the first one hundred days, many LTC policies do not begin before 90 days. You can request a shorter waiting period but the monthly premium is often prohibitively higher.

5) Five percent guaranteed annual benefit increase except for buyers older than age 75.

Fidelity seems to have little faith in the Federal Reserve’s ability to use monetary policy to keep inflation in check. The 5% mark is well about what the nation’s top bankers deem suitable. Inflation protection usually comes via a rider on the policy. Three percent is usually the norm with the costs of this add-on rising with each percentage point in protection.

6) For joint policies, a “shared coverage” provision that enables each insured person to tap the other’s benefits if necessary.

This may be one extra cost too many.

Now consider the following.
You put $180 away in a portfolio with a modest long-term return of 9% and save it for 20 years, taxed at 10% and with inflation calculated at 3%, you would have amassed $56,447. The policy paying $300 would cover only $129,600 in total lifetime cost, which, if you suspect you will be in relatively good health, will leave paying for a policy that may have been just as well been paid for in cash.

If you need cold hard facts... You will need $100,000 in savings at retirement for both you and your spouse to cover health care and insurance. From that point, you should calculate your retirement savings.

I would pass on the LTC if you were planning on leaving nothing to your heirs (but you still need to save much than you are now unless you want to spend those golden years with your kids). But if your heirs are concerned about you spending down their inheritance, ask them to chip in on an LTC policy and then it might be worth the costs.

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