I can’t speak about life, annuity, disability insurance, health or MedSup agents with authority, but I can speak with 100 percent certainty about long-term care insurance (LTCI) specialists: They are among the noblest individuals I’ve ever met. Steve Moses calls them “altruistic masochistic geniuses.”

I’ve grown up around them since I was a child, and have met and known thousands. To me, there’s something unique about the LTCI specialist which sets him or her apart from the other professions — and I mean no disrespect to our distinguished colleagues.

But it’s this: Most have chosen this path because of a personal experience with long-term care, and have become agents in order to spare others the emotional, physical, psychological and financial heartache they’ve experienced firsthand.

Thus, LTCI specialists are “missionaries,” if you will. They are on a calling. Each believes passionately in private long-term care solutions as a fundamental part of our nation’s LTC funding crisis. Each has a story to tell. Here’s one:

My parents were beginning to have trouble living independently, primarily because my mother was at the beginning stages of dementia. My father was becoming overwhelmed caring for my mom, and my husband and I often had to run over to their house to help them. We decided it would be easier for everyone if we combined households and had them live with us so we could be instantly available to help.

As I became a caregiver, the burden of that role drove home how huge an impact caring for someone is. For a couple of years, I couldn’t work because I had to take over my mother’s care after my dad suddenly died. It was the toughest job I’ve ever had. We were scrambling every week to make ends meet while caring for someone who couldn’t perform 5 out of 6 ADL’s and had dementia. Upon my dad’s death, we were forced to make decisions at the time of a crisis. To replace him we hired help 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, and were spending close to $5,000 a month. That left us 16 hours a day with no help. I never knew if a caregiver was going to show up or not and if they didn’t, it was up to me.

Because of this experience, I decided to focus 100 percent of my energies on helping people avoid the trauma that I experienced. If I could help them prepare for the future, they wouldn’t be leaving their care to chance. Nor would they be burdening their children with having to physically, financially and emotionally care for them. LTCI would be a lifeline that would liberate them from the heavy burden of care and free them up to provide love and support.

— Edna Martin

If you talk to enough LTCI specialists, you’ll realize that — as gripping and extraordinary as Edna’s story is — it’s an origin story, repeated innumerably by our peers. Little boys and girls may grow up dreaming of becoming doctors, firefighters or even presidents. No one grows up imagining themselves an insurance agent specializing in long term care planning — and that’s fine.

See also: 5 ideas for selling LTCI to the Medicare generation

But at some point in each of our lives a trauma occurred which begat this mission in life, not unlike the personal crusades which culminated in today’s Amber Alert or Brady Bill. This is why I call ours “The Noblest Profession,” and if you are in the LTCI market and disagree, you might not be in it for the right reasons.

Are you there, God? It’s me, an LTCI specialist

Even though our industry is 40-years old, the major financial publications (e.g., Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Kiplinger’s) have a blind spot toward LTCI specialists, as if ours were not a full-time career. If there’s one public relations job we need to work on in 2015—and Long Term Care Awareness Month is as good a time to begin as any—it’s planting a flag that says, “We’re here!”

When seeking expert opinions for their articles, too many journalists go weak in the knees for designations they recognize (CFP, ChFC, CPA) over ones they do not (CLTC, LTCP, CSA). Inevitably, the media cite part-timers who sell one or 2 policies per year rather than our full-time colleagues who specialize in the occupation of LTC planning. What a disservice to their hundreds of thousands of readers.

Can you really blame them? Look at the Alliance for Health Reform’s “Sourcebook for Journalists,” which is sent out annually and bills itself as a resource of top experts in each subject area. While their 60+ LTC experts are bona fide, renowned and hail from both sides of the aisle, it is disappointing that the list is confined to think tanks, academia and government. Not only is private industry omitted, but I would wager that not a single expert on this list has ever sold a policy or taken a phone call from a distraught client.

While we’re on the topic, let’s not forget the summer of 2013. The 15-member Commission on Long-Term Care held four public hearings, each of which was broadcast, culminating in a Report to Congress. Although stakeholders from private insurance were given the option to submit written testimony as part of the record, not one LTC insurance expert was called before the Commission or appeared on camera. Egregious.

Leave a penny, take a penny

LTCI specialists have stories to tell. I encourage you to share yours at the MakesADifference site. After all, if you have a modern cellphone, then you can already create a video that looks nearly as professional as any recorded in a TV studio. And if you don’t have a personal testimonial of your own, then browse the site to find stories which speak to you. MakesADifference is a gift to the LTC community from the National LTC Network, of which my firm (LTCA) is a member.

The testimonials you will find on the site are not advertisements for any individual agent or member firm—or for you either. They are non-partisan videos which simply tell LTC insurance stories. Anyone—including insureds and caregivers—can share. Take a penny, leave a penny.

Mary Ann DeKing entered the long-term care insurance industry following her father’s six-year journey through many hospitals, caregivers, assisted living facilities and, finally, a nursing home.

In addition to seeing the emotional turmoil that her family experienced, DeKing saw his care expenses at home run about $4,500 per month. The last 12 months of his life, monthly care expenses were even higher.

Medicare did not pay one single cent of these expenses for her father, which surprised her. DeKing’s family had no advance plan other than its love and concern and the family bank account.

DeKing came to realize the harsh reality that, despite the money we spend on health insurance and taxes, long-term care is not covered by health insurance or Medicare until people spend down most or all of their assets. She recognized that people must plan in advance, while they are younger and healthier, so that this financial and emotional burden is not placed on the family.

— Mary Ann DeKing

The right stuff

We are a self-selecting group, which is to say this profession tends to attract the right folks. In one survey which compared advisors who sold LTC insurance as part of their practice against those who did not, an eye-opening distinction emerged. The top reason given by the former group for offering the product was to protect their clients’ peace of mind and security.

Meanwhile, what do you suppose the “non-selling” financial planners were most worried about losing by not offering LTC insurance? Money. If it’s any consolation, 40% of these advisors didn’t think they were missing out on anything at all, and 70% believed themselves very unlikely to start selling LTC insurance in the next 12 months.

With such bad apples in our midst, is it any wonder our reputation suffers? The most recent Gallup Poll (Nov 2012) shows that Americans rate the honesty of insurance salespeople right around advertising practitioners and state officeholders—between lawyers and TV reporters on one side, and car salespeople and lobbyists on the other.

Knowing your own ethics and how hard you work every day to make the lives of others better, this should make you indignant! It should make you demand more from your advocacy group. On the other hand, if I’ve accomplished nothing else, I hope I’ve impressed upon you that LTCI specialists are a breed apart from the run-of-the-mill insurance agent.

I would challenge you to find anyone who has more passion for this business than me. I’ve heard many stories from clients, and they are so thankful they have [LTC Insurance]. I also have personal experience from people in my own life…one that had insurance, and one that didn’t.

As long as the passion is there and I’m physically able, I will always be involved at some level. I made a promise to my clients that they can reach me any time, and they all have my number.The most important thing I can do is to help them. Sometimes they call me, and they’re in their 80s. They’re so stressed out. They’re alone. Anyone can simply write a policy, but I’m there to help them.

- Phil Grossman

— Phil Grossman

For LTC Awareness Month, it’s not enough to focus on product (LTC insurance, hybrid, critical illness, or CHAS) or on any one sales technique (like “Good, Better, Best”). If no one is aware we exist, we may as well be the most educated trees falling in the forest.

It’s time the public, the media and regulators alike embrace the “LTCI specialist”. You can’t demand respect, you must earn it. This means our community must wear our labels proudly, and advocate for the betterment of all.

For the “Noblest Profession.”