The deadline to apply for the program before a two-year suspension is Dec. 19, but officials want applicants to go in with “eyes wide open” that rates will likely increase substantially.
The Office of Personnel Management plans to suspend applications for the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program for two years beginning Dec. 19, in anticipation of a sizeable rate hike.
OPM announced the unusual measure last month in the Federal Register, and noted that federal workers who submit their applications by the deadline will still be considered for enrollment. FLTCIP was created in 2002 and assists with health care costs for participants who need help with daily personal functions, or who have a severe cognitive illness, and covers home care, nursing home or assisted living benefits.
“OPM is suspending applications for coverage in FLTCIP to allow OPM and the FLTCIP carrier to assess the benefit offerings and establish sustainable premium rates that reasonably and equitably reflect the cost of the benefits provided,” the agency wrote.
The program will continue to operate normally for current enrollees, although they will not be able to apply to increase their coverage. There are currently around 267,000 federal workers and retirees participating in the insurance plan, and OPM typically receives only a few thousand applications to enroll per year.
The decision to suspend applications for the program came after John Hancock Life and Health Insurance Co., the contractor that administers the program, informed OPM that it is likely that there will a premium increase sometime next year.
In recent years, the long term care insurance market has been plagued by large premium increases, in part because people have been living longer and in part because long term interest rates have been at historic lows since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program last saw premiums increase by an average of 83% in 2016.
John Hatton, staff vice president of policy and programs for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said it is likely that OPM will examine whether there is anything they can do administratively to improve the stability of the program or propose legislation to alter the program.
“Reading the tea leaves, instituting a suspension of applications shows that there’s a lack of faith or trust that it’s designed in a way that can be sustainable,” he said. “The first premium increase was around 25%, the second was as high as 125% [in some cases], and 83% on average. These premiums were quoted with the intention of staying stable for the lifetime of the coverage, which is someone’s life. And it’s not just federal workers’. They were just not priced correctly to begin with.”
After the previous round of premium hikes, OPM instituted “FLTCIP 3.0,” which allows current enrollees to adjust their coverage downward in order to reduce the impact of rising premiums. Even with that change, Hatton said OPM likely made the right decision by suspending applications.
“If you can’t accurately quote someone what the cost will be for a product, it shouldn’t be open ended,” he said. “That said, the reason these premiums are going up is costs are very high, and people have to figure out how to plan for long term care costs, and there’s no public option aside from Medicaid, which only provides catastrophic coverage if you’re completely impoverished yourself.”
Ultimately, Hatton said he thinks that OPM will wind up having to request legislation from Congress to make the changes needed to stabilize the program.
“OPM, for their part, has done—within the structure of the program, I think—what they can do,” he said. “They hired an independent actuary to look at the assumptions and make sure that they’re right, they hired a consultant to look at various options, and we’ll see where that goes and what flexibility they have in the statute or whether they’ll need Congress to provide some flexibilities. But at the end of the day, the options that would emerge are going to be ones that are maybe tied more to affordability and certainty, but also less coverage.”
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