Certainly, with the cost of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities running at upwards of $100,000 a year and with home care running at more than $45,000 a year per person in most larger states, according to a 2015 Genworth study, it is easy to see how an unanticipated multi-year residency could deplete a retirement nest egg.
Certainly, with the cost of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities running at upwards of $100,000 a year and $45,000 a year per person in most larger states, it is easy to see how an unanticipated multi-year residency could deplete a retirement nest egg.
But the commonly recommended solution -- buying long-term-care insurance -- may not be the best answer for most clients, says Anthony Webb, a research economist with Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.
Webb, who headed a team that looked at the statistics for home care and nursing home care over the 20-year period from 1984 through 2004 in a working paper late last year, says that demand for costly nursing home care, even for people in their late 80s, has plunged 40% over that period as more people are living healthier lives, medical care improves, and new techniques develop to allow people to stay in their homes, even when they have some physical or mental limitations.
Furthermore, he says that most nursing home stays have tended to be short, and because Medicare typically covers up to 100 days of rehabilitation in a nursing facility as well as some subsequent in-home care per hospitalization, the vast majority of people, even with significant health issues, may never need to pay for nursing home care.
In 2004, just 5.2% of men and 8% of women over 85 needed nursing home or assisted-living care, the research shows.
“Insurers like to characterize long-term care as a relatively low-probability but high-cost event, which is exactly the appropriate event to buy insurance for. But it turns out the probability of going into a nursing home is understated, while the time people spend in long-term care is overstated,” Webb says.
“This means you are buying insurance for a high-probability, low-cost event, which is the wrong reason to buy insurance,” he says.
The worst situation is for a client or a client couple to buy LTC insurance, which for people 65 can run $6,000 per person annually, and to then cancel it years later as the premiums rise and it becomes impossible to keep paying them, something that happens with about 50% of LTC policies, Webb says.
Advisor Robert J. Glovsky, principal and vice chairman of the Boston-based The Colony Group, agrees the issue of buying or not buying LTC insurance can be fraught, with no pat answers available.
“At the end of the day, our role as advisors is to understand all the different facts and to allow our clients to make a well-informed, conscious decision about what they think is the best way to go,” he says.
Dave Lindorff spent five years as a China correspondent for Businessweek and has written for The Nation and Salon.com.
This story is part of a 30-day series on retirement planning strategies.