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Long Term Care Insurance Bill Nears Govs Desk





By Colleen Quinn

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MA, SEPT. 20, 2012….Long-term care insurance legislation that sets new standards for policies and creates consumer protections appears headed for final passage, after clearing the House Thursday.

Long-term care insurance regulations already exist in Massachusetts, but the legislation would require the insurance commissioner to promulgate the National Association of Insurance Commissioners model which provides additional consumer protections. The bill (S 2359) also gives the insurance commissioner increased authority over rate-setting and cost controls. And its sponsors say it is designed to protect some elderly patients from losing their homes to pay for long-term care.

Currently, patients who go into a nursing home are allowed to keep their homes if they have bought a sufficient amount of long-term care insurance to cover some of the costs before Medicaid coverage takes over. In some instances, elderly patients choose home care before going into a nursing home, bringing their long-term care benefits below the minimum amount required - sometimes leading them to lose their homes to the state to cover the costs of care, according to sponsors of the legislation. The bill limits MassHealth's estate recovery ability for people holding approved plans.

Despite a lack of opponents, the legislation's path toward approval has taken many years, going through several iterations that made it difficult for it to make it to the governor's desk, backers of the bill said. The Senate approved the bill three times during the last six years. The bill, which has the endorsement of the Life Insurance Association of Massachusetts, stills needs final approval in both branches.

Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), one of the original sponsors, said when she filed the bill several years ago Massachusetts was one of the first states to introduce standards legislation. If it is signed by the governor, Massachusetts will now be one of the last to enact standards, she said.

"This is one of those issues where you keep coming back, and proving it each time. We made it a better bill," Chandler said.

The bill attempts to encourage people to buy long-term care insurance like they would life insurance, Chandler said.

"If you ask people how they are going to manage when they are older, most people say the state is going to take care of me. The state can't afford to do that," Chandler said.

Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Concord), another sponsor, said she became interested in passing stricter regulations on long-term care rates after a constituent came to her when his insurance premiums increased 78 percent.

"You pay all this money in premiums, then when you might collect, all of the sudden your premiums go up," Atkins said. "So a lot of people can't afford to keep their premiums and drop the insurance. They are out of their investment they paid all those years, and they are out of insurance."

Long-term care insurance is expensive, so insurers need to be upfront about costs, Atkins said.

Some other consumer protections included in the bill include: requiring clear policy summaries for consumers; defining standards for pre-existing conditions as they relate to policies; prohibiting cancellation or non-renewal of plans on the basis of age, deterioration of health, or in other defined circumstances. The bill also requires long-term care insurance brokers to meet training requirements.