Not long ago, financial adviser Evelyn Zohlen, founder and president of Inspired Financial, heard from a 68-year-old client who was ready to buy long-term care insurance (LTCI).

“We shopped it, and it’s too late. It’s cost-prohibitive for her now,” Ms. Zohlen told Medical Daily.

No one likes spending money unnecessarily, but Ms. Zohlen said that waiting too long to buy a plan is the biggest mistake people make with LTCI policies, which help to cover the costs of home health aides or skilled nursing facilities.

“The issue that people don't understand is, your money pays for your long-term care insurance — but really, it's your health that buys it,” Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, told Medical Daily .

That means that you need to secure the level of coverage you want while you’re still healthy enough to qualify for it at rates you can afford.

When do you start thinking about it?

How do you find the right age to begin? Mr. Slome quipped that the perfect time to sign up for a policy is 30 to 60 days before you need it. Unless you have a crystal ball, you’re not going to be able to predict your future requirements with that level of precision. However, you can listen to the experts’ advice, as you make the best decision for your circumstances.

According to a survey conducted by the LTCI association, 72% of long-term care insurance claims in 2019 were submitted for home health aide care, not for nursing home stays. With that in mind, Mr. Slome encouraged people to buy a small policy, if that’s all they can manage financially.

“One, it’s going to be affordable,” he said. “And two, it’s very likely going to be all that they’ll need.”

Ms. Zohlen noted that the majority of insurance companies offer hybrid policies, which provide long-term care coverage and a death benefit. “[They’re] basically life insurance with a long-term wrapper around it,” she said. Those policies may help you manage expenses by paying one premium for two potential benefits.

What if you want to “age in place”?

Even a “modest” amount of LTCI can help you manage care needs in your home that could otherwise escalate to more serious health obstacles, said Mr. Slome. For example, if you need help with some areas of hygiene, a minimal amount of home health aide support could reduce your risk of falling and suffering an injury that would require more extensive care.

“We love our homes, [but] the vast majority of our homes are not designed for easy aging,” Ms. Zohlen said. “There are age-in-place consultants that, for a very modest fee, can come in and tell you the things you're going to need to think about as far as retrofitting. You don't have to take the recommendations of the consultants. But it's really instructive to see, wow, okay, I never thought of all of these things that I would need to change if I want to stay here.”

Vicki Hoak, executive director of the Home Care Association of America, told Medical Daily that many home health agencies also offer home assessments. These assessments evaluate what changes you can make in your house that will control whether you need home aid. “Our goal is always to maintain independence,” she said. “Whatever we can do first to maintain that independence without assistance is always a good thing.”

The take home

These are some factors to consider as you decide whether to purchase long-term care insurance for the future. Experts stress that LTCI not only covers the costs of a facility but can also help you age at home in the way you want. Check the American Association for LTCI resource center for more information.