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8 ways long-term care insurance applicants are different

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People in the United States who apply for private long-term care insurance seem to be a pretty healthy bunch.

Portia Cornell, a health policy researcher at Harvard University, and four other researchers have presented data supporting that conclusion in a paper published, behind a paywall, on the website of Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed academic journal that focuses on health care delivery and health care finance systems.

Cornell’s team includes Marc Cohen, an analyst who has worked with Washington, D.C.-based America’s Health Insurance Plans for years and is well-known to private long-term care insurance issuers.

Related: LifePlans finds high LTCI claimant satisfaction levels [video]

The researchers started with data on 15,659 long-term care insurance applications sent to two issuers from 2008 through 2012. The researchers then compared the long-term care insurance applicant data with data on all U.S. residents ages 50 and older collected by the managers of the Health and Retirement Study, a national survey program.

The researchers found that, in many ways, the long-term care insurance applicants look as if they might be at lower risk of needing long-term care services than members of the general over-50 population. The long-term care insurance applicants were more likely to have been in the hospital and to have minor health problems. But, possibly because potential long-term care insurance applicants screened themselves, or because insurance agents screened the would-be applicants, the long-term care insurance applicants were much less likely to report having major health problems. The long-term care insurance applicants were also much less likely to have problems passing a simple memory screening test.

The researchers end with a prediction that could disappoint many long-term care insurance agents and brokers: The researchers say using expansion of private long-term care insurance coverage to eliminate the need for new public long-term care programs efforts will be difficult, because about 40 percent of Americans ages 50 and older have health problems or other risk factors that would make them expensive for private long-term care insurance issuers to cover.

Long-term care insurance  issuers have been rejecting only about 20 percent to 25 percent of the applications they receive, the researchers write.

But the researchers also provide support for the idea that fear of an long-term care insurance application rejection helps compensate for the possibility that some consumers who have “private information” about a high risk of needing long-term care services rush out to apply for long-term care insurance.

The team’s paper also gives some interesting information about what the applicants in the application pool were really like.

For a look at some of the comparison data, read on:

Even before the shift to gender-priced LTCI pricing took off, women were less likely to apply for coverage than men were. (Image: iStock)

Even before the shift to gender-priced long-term care insurance pricing took off, women were less likely to apply for coverage than men were. (Photo: iStock)

1. Gender

Long-term care insurance applicants: 45 percent were women.

General 50+ population: 52 percent were women.

Related: The real story behind LTC rate increases

The researchers confirmed what every agent knows about LTCI applicants: They tend to be well-educated. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The researchers confirmed what every agent knows about long-term care insurance applicants: They tend to be well-educated. (Photo: Thinkstock)

2. Education

Long-term care insurance applicants: 48 percent had a college degree.

General 50+ population: 31 percent had a college degree.

Related: Gray science: 4 lessons from LTCI research

Surgeon (Image: Thinkstock)

The odds that an long-term care insurance applicant has been in the hospital recently are very high. (Photo: Thinkstock)

3. Hospitalization

Long-term care insurance applicants: 53 percent had been in the hospital in the previous two years.

General 50+ population: 21 percent had been in the hospital in the previous two years.

Related: Accounting firm: Hospital admissions are still falling

LTCI applicants are a little more likely than other Americans to be obese, but they are less likely to be extremely obese. (Photo: iStock)

Long-term care insurance applicants are a little more likely than other Americans to be obese, but they are less likely to be extremely obese. (Photo: iStock)

4. Weight

Long-term care insurance applicants: 37 percent were obese; 2.4 percent were extremely obese, meaning that they had a body mass index of 40 or more.

General 50+ population: 32 percent were obese; 5.5 percent were extremely obese.

Related: 10 towns where a LOT of people got fat

LTCI applicants are a little more likely than other older Americans to know they have diabetes. (Image: Thinkstock)

Long-term care insurance applicants are a little more likely than other older Americans to say they have diabetes. (Photo: Thinkstock)

5. Diabetes

Long-term care insurance applicants: 20 percent said they had diabetes.

General 50+ population: 18 percent said they had diabetes.

Related: Sharp drop seen in child obesity rate

The odds that an LTCI applicant has had cancer are low. (Image: Jovan Vitanovski/Thinkstock)

The odds that an long-term care insurance applicant has had cancer are low. (Photo: Thinkstock)

6. Cancer 

Long-term care insurance applicants: 5.7 percent reported having had cancer.

General 50+ population: 10 percent reported having had cancer.

Related: 12 states with the highest breast cancer death rates

The odds that an LTCI applicant has had a stroke are low. (Image: Thinkstock)

The odds that an long-term care insurance applicant has had a stroke are very low. (Photo: Thinkstock)

7. Stroke

Long-term care insurance applicants: 1.6 percent said they had experienced a stroke.

General 50+ population: 4.6 percent said they had experienced a stroke.

Related: The costliest diseases in the U.S. [infographic]

Woman (iStock)

Long-term care insurance applicants tend to do well on a common memory screening test. (Photo: iStock)

8.  Poor word-recall results

Long-term care insurance applicants: 30 percent had a score of 7 out of 10 or less on a standard word-recall test.

General 50+ population: 83 percent had a score of 7 out of 10 or less on the word-recall test.

Related: 

Cognitive Screenings Growing Impact

4 things you should know: LTCI paramedical exams

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