A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (Mark Twain on the state of the Long Term Care Insurance Industry.)

    From the time that I myself was only knee high to a grasshopper, I was captivated by the wit and witticisms of Mark Twain. Known for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he was also a world traveler who favored Europe and would write about these adventures as well. World-renowned at the time of his death in 1910, his writings and wry pieces of advice and observations of life live on into yet a third century and countless generations of readers. 

    What does Mark Twain have to do with the long term care insurance industry? Everything. 

    It is not hard for me to imagine him on stage at ILTCI or another industry conference, clad in a white suit, his luxurious white hair askew as he puffs on a cigar and utters something such as “Like rumors of my own demise, the rumors regarding the death of the long term care insurance industry are greatly exaggerated.”

    As for me, in the course of my regular business day I often speak with dozens of people. These days, particularly if they have reached out to me, I attempt to listen more than I speak and to really hear what they are attempting to say to me.  More often than not when the topic of the lack of LTCI sales rolls around, there are myriad myths, rationales, and distortions—or what I call “rocks”—that these people would presumably love to free themselves of and leave on my desk. As much as possible I refuse delivery because I already have my own box of rocks with which I am dealing, and because I firmly believe that they are all wrong! I want to take this opportunity to address some of these erroneous paradigms and to allow Mr. Twain to weigh in as well.

    Clear as day, traditional, stand-alone long term care insurance (LTCI) is going away…
    Traditional, stand-alone LTCI is clearly not going away. If anything, there has been a resurgence in the sale of LTCI since financial advisors, estate planning attorneys, and other insurance producers now view it as the “alternative to the alternative” hybrid and combo products that often require great infusions of cash in order to fund the policy and less remaining assets under management (AUM) upon which they derive a livelihood. They really like us now!

    “It has been reported that I was seriously ill—it was another man; dying—it was another man; dead—the other man again… As far as I can see, nothing remains to be reported, except that I have become a foreigner. When you hear it, don’t you believe it. And don’t take the trouble to deny it. Merely just raise the American flag on our house in Hartford and let it talk.” —Letter to Frank E. Bliss, 11/4/1897

    I cannot think of a more dangerous and self-destructive paradigm for a producer to possess about this invaluable, life-altering product. Our ability to tailor a plan to fit the needs, the wants, as well as the budget of the LTCI-seeking client is unparalleled. 

    “Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

    Everybody is getting out of the long term care insurance business.
    Sure, some of the carriers have pulled a disappearing act again, but at the same time other carriers are broadening their footprint and offering new and unique products that are attractive to a wider range of client. 

    It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. 

    I am detecting a pattern on how Mr. Twain feels about the doubters.

    The carriers are raising the underwriting bar and making it increasingly difficult for me to find coverage for my clients.
    Certainly underwriting standards have been raised for fear that adverse selection will negatively impact the pool of policyholders, but at the same time the move towards fewer underwriting requirements, i.e. less Attending Physician Statements (APS), has actually made it easier to get applicants approved. It is also great that we have a wide array of LTCI-related products that we can offer these hard to insure clients. E-apps are also making it faster to process through the system as we avoid Not-in-Good-Order (NIGOs) and this in turn leads to better placement!

    “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain.

    “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” – Mark Twain

    I am still experiencing push back from clients that paying premiums for a lifetime with nothing to show for it is a waste of money, not to mention which there is so much negative press about the ongoing  inforce rate actions.
    Like other forms of insurance, LTCI is still an exercise in risk mitigation. Nobody ever complains about living their entire life without filing a claim for a house that has not burned down or a car that they never totaled.  Yet, in this case, where the odds of needing care for a couple are an incredible 90 percent, they push back. Clearly this is ignorance – defined as a lack of knowledge. Or denial. Once we educate them, they are no longer ignorant. Sometimes we just have to accept the fact that we cannot overcome well-grounded denial or… something worse. I would certainly hope that if there was a forecast that included a 90 percent probability of rain that they would grab their umbrella. 

    There is no doubt that the need for long term care and its accompanying insurance continues to grow at pandemic levels, especially in terms of cognitive impairment, as we continue to live longer lives. New Return of Premium riders are also attempting to address this perceived shortfall in the coverage, as are Single Pay and Ten-Pay offerings.

    “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain

    Denial is rampant and I am frustrated at attempting to get people to drink the Kool-Aid.
    It has always astounded me at how deep denial can run. Even in the face of years and years of statistics and logical argument, if a potential client does not believe that it can happen to him, they are not going to buy our product. It is also painful to us because of the knowledge we have and the insights into what their lives can become in the absence of this protection. Keep the Faith.  

    “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” – Mark Twain

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain

    Selling LTCI is getting harder and harder because people simply don’t want to hear about it.
    It is about serving our clients with the utmost of professionalism, product knowledge, and with total integrity. 

    “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”–Mark Twain

    “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

    People don’t trust that we will deliver on our promises.
    As long term care advocates, it is important to remember: “Character is the architect of achievements.” This involves our becoming the face of the policy and selling the difference (ourselves) from the moment we first begin to speak with them.

    “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” – Mark Twain

    The LTCI business is harder because of higher premiums that people flat out don’t want to pay.
    “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

    The keys to success in this business are belief and activity. In fact, 90 percent of this business is belief and the other half is activity. Ours is a very simple business: “call people, see people, help people.” It is simple, but not easy. If it were easy, there would be ten thousand producers offering LTCI, and we would not be earning the compensation we are for our efforts. The key is to not get discouraged, and to remember that we are attempting to live a life of significance.

    “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” – Mark Twain

    “A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.” – Mark Twain

    I love what I do, and it often breaks my heart when I cannot find a product solution for someone who really wants the coverage. I’ve also been told by several people whom I respect that I would be better served to find another area of specialization because LTCI will not be with us much longer and that I am wasting my time.
    Just as we have to deal with ignorance and denial from clients, it is still prevalent among advisors and other producers. To this we would say,

    “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain

    “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain

    Sometimes it is hard for me to pick up the phone and make the calls I need to make, or to face another “day of drudgery in the trenches.”
    I still remember the excitement with which I began my LTCI career some nineteen years ago, and realize that it is still the reason that I get up every morning and approach my desk with such enthusiasm and belief that I am going to do some good today for somebody who needs me to do it. I believe that LTCI remains a great and viable business. The opportunity has not diminished in the slightest and for the most part is greater today than it was when I began my career—if for no other reason than there are fewer of us in the business! More for those of us who have endured…

    “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain 

    Don Levin, JD, MPA, CLF, CSA, LTCP, CLTC, is chairman of the board of the National Long Term Care Network and the managing general agent of PNW Insurance Services, a national brokerage which offers long term care insurance, short term recovery care, life insurance and annuities to the general public across the country. The long term care planning specialists and staff of PNWIS are proud to offer comprehensive individualized planning solutions to their clients while also working through a strategic alliance of financial planners, estate planning and elder law attorneys, CPAs, and other businesses and organizations.

    Levin has been in the long term care industry since 1999, during which time he has been an award-winning agent, district manager, regional sales manager, marketing director, associate general agent, general agent, and divisional vice president. Levin is also a former practicing Attorney-at-Law, court-appointed arbitrator and is a retired U.S. Army officer.

    In addition to his various law and life and health insurance licenses, and the above designations, Levin has also earned Green Belt certification through GE’s Six Sigma program, and is a graduate of GAMA International’s Essentials of Leadership and Management. He has also taught Managing Goal Achievement®, Integrity Selling® and The Way to Wealth® to hundreds of leaders and salespeople over the past fifteen years. He previously possessed FINRA Series 7, 24, and 66 licenses.

    Levin earned his Juris Doctor from The John Marshall Law School, his MPA, from the University of Oklahoma, and his BA from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Defense Strategy Course, U.S. Army War College.

    He is a published author of nine books in a wide range of genre.

    Levin may be reached via telephone at (509) 348-0206. Email: dlevin@pnwis.com.