Most people are aware that they need health insurance. Some might not be able to afford it, and others might not be able to qualify for a policy, but just about everyone considers it a necessity. This is in sharp contrast to general perceptions about long term care insurance. Mike, writing at InsureBlog, has an article about the discussions going on in the UK regarding how to go about insuring the population for long term care.
Based on my own very un-scientific surveys over the years (mainly talking with my own friends and acquaintances), I don’t think that most people are aware that Medicare does not cover long term care. I think that people with lots of money (who tend to have financial advisors) know that they need long term care insurance. At the other end of the spectrum, people who have very little money might qualify for Medicaid without much “spending down” in their later years. But it’s the people in the middle who are probably most likely to be thrown for a loop by the costs of long term care.
Long term care insurance is a bit like disability insurance, in that both are likely to be needed at some point, and yet they aren’t high on most people’s lists of must-have insurance products. Is it because we don’t like to picture ourselves needing long term care, or being disabled? Is it because the products are expensive? Life insurance isn’t something that most of us particularly want to think about needing to use either, but term life insurance policies are very inexpensive. Long term care is a more expensive product, and thus requires more of a sacrifice on the part of the policy holder.
I think that there’s a general perception that once a person becomes eligible for Medicare, medical expenses will no longer be a worry. While Medicare does provide a good safety net for older Americans, it’s far from complete on its own. Medicare Part D, Medigap policies, and long term care insurance are all pieces of the puzzle too, but might not be widely understood by people who haven’t yet experienced the Medicare system.
I agree with Mike that we need to be having a discussion here in the US about how to better fund long term care. Private insurance policies work well, for the relatively few people who purchase them. But I think more intensive public education is needed in terms of what is and isn’t covered by Medicare.
I found Mike’s article in the Cavalcade of Risk, hosted last week at Supporting Safer Healthcare.