More than 3,000 possible prices
Long-term care insurance is still a relatively new form of coverage, but it’s catching on much faster these days — in some areas.A North Carolina state study showed that while coverage nationwide grew 142 percent from 1992 to 1998, the growth was occurring mostly in a handful of states.The percentage of covered individuals in states such as North Carolina and West Virginia falls in the single digits.One reason may be the cost. Premiums are based on age, health and the myriad options offered in any single plan.According to the Long Term Care Insurance Buyer’s Advocate Alliance, there are more than 3,000 possible prices for each person.
The 1990s were a time of great pain and great change in the life of Tom McMillan.His father developed cancer, spent eight months in hospice and died at age 89 in 1994. His mother had been showing signs of dementia, but once her husband died, the symptoms really set in.McMillan, 61, grew up in Charleston and stayed in the capital city to make his living. His two brothers scattered to Martinsburg and North Carolina.As problems with Mom worsened, he was the one who got the calls.“She’d call 15 or 16 times a day,” he said. “She locked herself out of the apartment, or she left the bath running and it ran down into the apartment below...“The last straw was when I went over to visit and there was a pan on the stove that was literally on fire. The reality set in that not only was she a danger to herself, but now to others.” He got together with his brothers and his family and shopped for assisted living.“It was a very traumatic decision, because, well, that’s your mother,” he explained.Shortly after she settled in to their choice of facilities, she fell and broke her hip.“She had an operation, but because of the dementia, she couldn’t remember how to rehab herself,” McMillan said. “So, after 21 days, Medicare cut her off. If a patient is not showing improvement after 21 days, Medicare stops paying. It was a rude awakening for me.”As she worsened, the family moved her into a nursing home, where she lived for six months before her death at age 86 in 1997.McMillan was shocked at how fast his mother’s money was depleted for her care.“We were very close to mother running out of assets,” he said. “Of course, my brothers and I would never have let anything happen, but it was amazing how fast it was used up.”Then, McMillan heard about long-term care insurance. After what he had been through, he was intrigued by it. He started studying the intricacies of the coverage, and before long, he knew what he wanted to do.He put his decades as a stockbroker on a shelf, and started the lengthy process of becoming certified to sell long-term care insurance.“I know this sounds corny, but I felt like doing this was more like helping people,” said McMillan, now a long-term care specialist with Silverstein, Maddox, Wallace & Associates, on Smith Street in Charleston.“A couple I worked with, one of the first things they did after leaving this office was to go home and write a letter to their kids saying, ‘We got you a present,’ ” McMillan said. “I think that’s wonderful.”To contact staff writer Robert J. Byers, use e-mail or call 348-1236.The final installment in this series appears in Monday’s Healthwatch section of The Charleston Gazette.