Federal long-term care plan boosts enrollment by 20 percent

Thursday - 9/22/2011, 3:41pm EDT

Results from a recent open enrollment season indicate that the aging federal workforce is increasingly drawn to long term care insurance regardless of rate hikes.

The Office of Personnel Management said enrollment increased by 20 percent, or 45,000 people during the open season that ended on June 24, including more than 300 same-sex domestic partners of federal employees. The federal program is the largest of its kind in the country. The government does not subsidize the costs of premiums.

The open enrollment period was the program's first since 2002. During that time, people could sign up for coverage by answering fewer health questions than typically asked.

The insurance provider, John Hancock Life Insurance Company, drew criticism in 2009, when it hiked premiums by as much as 25 percent for most of its enrollees. Nearly all of the members chose to continue with the program despite having to pay more. Nonetheless, it drew lawmakers' ire.

"The rate increases raised serious concerns about the management of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program and poor OPM oversight and communication with enrollees," said Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) in a press release at the time.

The resulting Government Accountability Office study released in July showed the company had revised its estimate of how many enrollees would live longer than originally expected and maintain their coverage for a longer period of time. It also indicated that the program's complexity and relatively large portion of disabled enrollees made other insurance companies less interested in participating.

Following the criticism, OPM increased its oversight of the program, including reviewing messages to members.

Long term care insurance helps pay the costs of receiving care in the home, or modifications to the home that improve safety and accessibility, like handrails in the bathroom.