By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: I'm a 67 year-old retiree, and I'm confused by long term care insurance. Should I purchase this, and if so, why? George in Tennessee, 67

ANSWER: Since it's a relatively new insurance product, I'm sad to report that less than five percent of my clients have the coverage when 100% of them could benefit from it. Long term care insurance should absolutely become a part of your insurance portfolio. As with other insurance policies, there are a variety of options available to suit your needs. Anyone over the age of 55 should consider purchasing one right away. The sooner the better, since it's usually less expensive the earlier you begin coverage. Most people have to be talked into getting long term care insurance, but I can't tell you how many times my clients have benefited from having it, or suffered since they chose not to purchase it.

To get the most out of long term care insurance, assess your current health needs. Do you have any ongoing serious health issues or are you relatively healthy? I realize that nobody has a crystal ball. Mine broke a long time ago, so I can't tell what future holds. But long term care insurance may take care of the extraordinary needs of an elder in a health crisis.

Long term care insurance usually activates the moment the need is there. The particulars will obviously depend on your policy, but most cover hospital, home care, aides, and other costs to supplement any other insurance or Medicare that is in play. Some policies have a component that allows a geriatric care manager to do an initial assessment and then put it in place. Some policies offer a lump sum payment and allow you to spend it as you see fit.

So I suggest you be proactive, purchase a long term are policy, prepare for the worse, and hope you never need it. But also be comforted by the peace of mind knowing that if you do require help, it'll be taken care of in your time of need. It's well worth it and can save the day.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.