One of the scary things about reporting on a topic as complicated and sensitive as long-term care insurance (LTCI) is the humbling awareness that I'm just starting to learn about it.
Of course, the reality is that the LTCI industry is just starting learning how to provide LTCI for a population that varies dramatically in size, and the whole world is learning how to deal with fluctuations in population growth. Life is an experiment in progress.
The idea that a life insurance or annuity product that can provide LTC benefits when needed seems logical. Why lock money into silos? Money is money.
On the other hand: One reason I have any retirement money at all is that it's locked in silos that I'm too tired and lazy to break into. If I continue to be lazy, and if financial services providers continue to exist, and if the current financial/monetary system continues to exist, then I'll have at least some money -- maybe enough to buy a few cups of coffee every month -- when I retire simply because I would probably have to fill out some forms to get the money out of my 401(k) plan and individual retirement account, and the thought of filling out a form seems horrifying.
But another reason it seems as if it's good to keep pure, stand-alone LTCI going is that it feels as if LTCI people tend to have a different approach to LTC finance than the people providing the hybrid products.
It feels, when I do interviews and read press releases, as if the hybrid products know everything the LTCI carriers know about LTCI costs but are somewhat less interested in the mechanics of LTC itself, because they won't really be involved in paying money directly to LTC providers and probably won't be involved in managing LTC provider networks. Maybe, at most, they'll help give hybrid product holders access to a rented LTC provider network.
That approach may be simpler and cleaner, and help insurers avoid media wrestling matches between insurers and nursing home providers that claim mean old insurers are killing our great-grandparents with their tight-fisted, cold-hearted ways.
But, I think the truth that few like to admit is that the acute-care managed care companies have done a lot to keep acute-care doctors and hospitals from ripping patients off, and maybe to keep "doctors" with diplomas from the Great University of Advanced Photoshop Forgery from competing
Maybe the fact that managed care companies are now so gungho about HEDIS scores, and making sure patients have their blood pressure checked and get the right kind of follow-up care for various HEDIS-tracked conditions, has led to actual improvements in medical care.
Even if the managed care company don't care quite as much about quality for quality's sake down in the brutal trenches as much as they do in their press releases, at least they talk about caring, and at least some people at those companies care some of the time, and that's better than nothing.
I think it would be good for everybody if whatever units at the insurance companies that are providing the products that are supposed to help people pay for LTC borrow the acute-care insurers' interest in high-quality provider networks and continue the LTCI carriers' interest in understanding how LTC providers work and do what they can to promote good LTC provider quality.
LTCI claimants are the most vulnerable people in the Western world. Anything insurers can do to help them get decent care is an important act of corporate loving kindness.
INFORMAL CARE IS NOT FREE
LTC Financial Partners L.L.C., Kirkland, Wash., is working to promote LTCI by helping affiliated producers distribute localized press releases making the point that "Long-Term Care Insurance May Be Less Expensive Than Do-It-Yourself Caregiving."
"The services you provide don’t come free of charge," according to a version of the release distributed by Cathy Allen of Bangor, Pa. "Do-it-yourself caregiving can easily end up being really costly. In fact long-term care insurance, even with premium payments stretching more than 30 years, can easily end up being significantly less expensive."