Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) are asking the Senate for quick action on the issue. (Photo: Cardin's office)

A Senate hearing could put long-term care insurance premium increases in the headlines next month, just as interest in the presidential and congressional elections is heating up.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) are asking the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee to hold a hearing, in September, on the rate hike looming at the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program.

The program, which is insured by Boston-based John Hancock and administered by John Hancock’s Long Term Care Partners unit, is preparing to increase program enrollees’ premiums an average of 83 percent Nov. 1.

Election Day is Nov. 8.

Enrollees are going through a decision period that ends Sept. 30. They can decide whether to keep their coverage as is and let premiums rise, or hold premiums down by accepting a benefits cut. Some consumers may be able to stop paying premiums and get a paid-up, limited, contingent long-term care insurance benefit.

The Alexandria, Virginia-based National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association called for a hearing earlier this month. The association says it believes the federal long-term care insurance premium increases will cost 264,000 enrollees an average of about $111 extra per month.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management started the federal employees’ long-term care insurance program in 2001. The voluntary program is open to federal employees, U.S. Postal Service employees, active and retired members of the armed services, and some relatives of workers and retirees who are eligible for the program.

OPM recently renewed the contract for the program. Long Term Care Partners, the John Hancock unit that has been running the program, was the only bidder.

When the program went through a previous renewal cycle in 2009, John Hancock increased the premiums for policyholders with automatic compound inflation protection from 5 percent to 25 percent. After the program went through that increase, enrollment increased 20 percent.

Related: Feds: LTC Enrollment Rises 20 percent

Many other issuers of long-term care insurance coverage have also asked for big premium increases in recent years, because of the effects of low interest rates on investment earnings and because of new information about how often policyholders file claims, how long the claims last, and how tightly the policyholders cling to their policies.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a nonprofit benefits consortium for California’s municipal employers, announced in 2012 that it was increasing the premiums for its self-funded long-term care benefits plan by an average of 85 percent.

Related:

CALPERS to raise some LTCI rates 85 percent

LTCI Hearing: All Politics Is Personal

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