NU Online News Service, April 10, 7:03 p.m. – The head of the company in charge of the huge new Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program today assured the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Aging that the government got a good deal.

Paul Forte, chief executive of Long Term Care Partners L.L.C., a new venture formed by MetLife Inc., New York, and John Hancock Financial Services Inc., Boston, testified at a committee hearing that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management took unusual care when it selected his company to handle the seven-year contract.

Congress authorized OPM to set up the LTC program in 2000, and OPM awarded the contract to Long Term Care Partners in December 2001. As many as 20 million federal workers, dependents and retirees may be eligible to sign up for coverage through the voluntary, participant-paid program, officials estimate.

The aim of the OPM officials who reviewed bidders’ proposals “was to secure not only the strongest possible plan design at the best possible price, but to ensure, through good administration, that plan design would stay meaningful and that the program would continue to be competitively priced in the years ahead,” Forte said, according to a written version of his remarks.

Some LTC insurance brokers have suggested that certain eligible groups, such as retirees, who get no special underwriting relief when buying through the federal LTC program, can find better prices by shopping for coverage on their own.

But Forte argued that program rates are low, given the quality of the program and the wealth of benefits it offers.

Unusual program features include substantial benefits for informal home care provided by relatives, a binding mediation process for participants who appeal claim decisions, and the “largest education and awareness campaign ever conducted on the subject of long-term care and long-term care financing,” Forte said.

Long Term Care Partners has already held one satellite broadcast to explain the program to potential participants, and it expects to hold at least two more satellite broadcasts to answer more questions in the next few months, Forte said.

The company is also promoting the program on the ground, by operating a special LTC call center and organizing 2,000 face-to-face meetings, Forte said.

Forte emphasized that the program is running smoothly, pointing out that his company has almost completed setting up its main offices, at a former Air Force base in Portsmouth, N.H.

“This facility will be fully operational on May 1, less than five months from the date of the contract award,” Forte said.

So far, most private LTC insurers and brokers have praised the concept of the federal LTC program. Bertram Scott, an executive vice president at the Teachers’ Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund, New York, echoed that view at the hearing.

“We believe the success of the new federal long-term care program will make a significant contribution beyond its target audience,” Scott said.

The program should increase workers’ awareness of the need for private LTC insurance, and it could persuade more employers to offer employer-sponsored LTC programs, Scott said.

Congress will have detailed data on the progress of the LTC program by 2006. Frank Titus, OPM’s assistant director for long-term care, pointed out that the law authorizing the program requires the U.S. General Accounting Office to conduct one evaluation by the end of the third program year, and a second evaluation by the end of the fifth year.

The Aging Committee has posted copies of the witnesses’ remarks on the Web, at http://aging.senate.gov/hr81.htm