RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today in Your Health, long-term care insurance. It has expanded over the past 20 years from insurance coverage for nursing home care to insurance that will pay for help in your own home. Insurance companies are marketing their product to baby boomers - yeah, that's you, or somebody you know - all those millions of Americans hurtling toward retirement. But according to a number of surveys, baby boomers are not listening to the insurance companies.

NPR's Patti Neighmond has this report.

PATTI NEIGHMOND: Bill Vaughn sits in his office surrounded by piles of papers filled with research and statistics about all kinds of consumer health issues. As a policy analyst with Consumers Union, the group which publishes Consumer Reports magazine, Vaughn's considered an expert when it comes to health care issues. But when he looks at long-term care insurance, like most Americans of about the same vintage, he resists.

Mr. BILL VAUGHN (Consumers Unions): This is the last thing you want to buy. You want to plan for a vacation trip or something. And to buy a long-term care insurance policy is a chore, and it's - yeah, it brings up images of the end of the road and eventually death. So it's not a product that you go joyfully out buying, and we keep putting it off.

NEIGHMOND: That's pretty typical, according to Greg Seal, a financial planner who runs his own company in Denver, Colorado. Seal says boomers are skeptical about long-term care insurance not only for emotional reasons, but also for practical ones.

Mr. GREG SEAL (Financial Planner): Baby boomers are carrying a lot more debt today than their parents did at the ages that they are. And so they're paying for more of that, and they don't have enough resources to fund this risk.

NEIGHMOND: The actual risk of needing some kind of long-term care is high. Two-thirds of seniors will need it at some point in their lives. But mostly they'll need it only for short periods. One-fourth use long-term care for one or more years.

So for a healthy person in their mid-50s, is long-term care insurance worth it? That's a question Joel Gold wanted to answer. Gold is a professor of finance at the University of Southern Maine, as well as a financial planner. Gold looked at the cost of care. He factored in the probability of needing that care and here's what he found.

Professor JOEL GOLD (University of Southern Maine): Long-term care insurance is desirable for women at any age and it is desirable for younger to middle-aged males.

NEIGHMOND: So why such boomer resistance? Financial analyst Greg Seal says boomers often are mistaken and think Medicare will cover long-term care costs. But it won't. Medicare pays for short-term medical care at home or for a limited stay in a nursing home, but only after a hospitalization.

And actually buying long-term care insurance is not simple in our fast-changing health care industry. On top of that is the biggest unknown: Will the insurance you buy today pay for the kind of care that might be available in the future?

Mila Kofman is a policy analyst with Georgetown University.

Professor MILA KOFMAN (Georgetown University): No one really knows what we'll have in 30 to 40 years from now. For instance, in the '70s, when long-term care insurance was first sold, most of the care was provided in nursing home settings. Back then no one could envision that we would have assisted living and people being able to live at home and get care and help at home.

NEIGHMOND: So Kofman says a 50-year-old might buy long-term care insurance today that, say, pays for assisted living. But 30 years down the road, something better might come along, some sort of video or robotic monitoring, for instance, something your policy wouldn't even envision today.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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