Longer life drives long term care premiums

Wednesday - 8/10/2011, 4:28pm EDT

By Ruben Gomez
Federal News Radio

Longer life spans and limited competition may have driven up premium costs under the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP).

"When setting premiums for the second contract period, [FLTCIP carrier John Hancock Life Insurance Company] updated FLTCIP's assumptions to reflect an expectation that a larger portion of enrollees will voluntarily maintain their coverage longer and will live longer than initially expected," according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

On average, premiums increased 14 percent, or $16 per month, but some enrollees experienced 38 percent hikes, or $41 per month, GAO said.

The second contract period began in 2009, after the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced a seven-year deal with John Hancock. The company began providing long term care insurance to federal employees and retirees in 2002, when FLTCIP began.

Later in the decade, when the contract became available for renewal, John Hancock was among only a few carriers that expressed interest in providing insurance under FLTCIP.

"Some carriers wanted to grow their long-term care insurance business at a slower pace, which detracted from their interest in FLTCIP," GAO said. "At the time of FLTCIP's second contract, factors relating to the program's history had the second-most significant influence on carriers' interest, and generally detracted from it as a result of FLTCIP's need for a premium increase and concerns about transitioning a large, complex program from another carrier."

More than 220,000 people had purchased insurance under FLTCIP, as of April 30, 2011, according to a statement from Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), two of six lawmakers who requested the GAO study.

To limit premium hikes, FLTCIP offered enrollees the option to change their benefits, GAO said. About half of those facing an increase made no changes.

"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," Akaka said, "I am pleased that this report shows a renewed commitment at OPM to effectively oversee this program and to make sure federal employees have accurate information about their benefits and the strength of the program."

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GAO report