The Gnarly Truth About Long Term Care

For many years as I have conducted a workshop on the subject of long term care aptly entitled What’s Your Plan, I have shared an anecdote from my own life which illustrates why my wife and I own a robust long term care insurance policy.

It happened some years ago when we were gathered at a swimming party with our five [married] children and more grandchildren than I could count as they bobbed in and out of the water. I felt like a re-incarnate of George Bailey from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and that I truly was the richest man in town. I was thrilled to be surrounded by so many of my progeny. Imagine the shock and disappointment I experienced as that feeling was quickly dispelled when I asked for some assistance with the application of some suntan lotion on my back and the sentiment of “that is gnarly Dad, and I am not going anywhere near it,” was repeated several times. When I pointed out that I was neither a leper nor a carrier of any communicable contagion, that it was merely hair on my back, the head shaking and facial contortions did not subside, and it was only when my wife made her appearance that I received some begrudging assistance. In hindsight, I believe it was at that point in time that we made the more-or-less permanent switch to a spray-on applicator for future holiday sojourns.

A lesser man might have been scarred by such abject rejection but being quick on my feet, I pointed out to them that they had merely confirmed for me that in a crisis involving long term care that they would be absolutely useless to me. “If you won’t even apply suntan lotion to my back, what chance do I have that you would ever bathe me or toilet me?” Their response? “Oh Dad, you know that we would take care of you.” While they may believe this, to this day I harbor serious doubts, and remain grateful for my long term care insurance policy, because I know that life is busy for them, and that we are no longer a Walton-like society of homes with two and three generations residing under one roof. Our families are dispersed across the country, with more women in the workplace, fewer children being born, and life is busy! The COVID-19 pandemic that continues to haunt us was another great wakeup call for many families that long term care for an ailing family member can be a great challenge, and that there is a fair amount of truth to the adage that says “one parent can take care of six children, but six children cannot take care of one parent.”

This anecdote and gentle reminders always receive the laugh that I hope for and is a poignant reminder to many of the participants in my workshops that they too are vulnerable to the new normal in our society.

Imagine my surprise when on a recent holiday to a fashionable resort in Cabo San Lucas I witnessed my suntan lotion experience playout right before my own eyes. A family of two parents and their three adult children rode from the airport to the resort with us on the prescribed shuttle and they talked about all that they were going to enjoy over the coming week. We saw them nearly every day at one of the two infinity pools that graced the grounds of the resort, until that fateful day when I witnessed the father asking his children for some assistance with the application of his suntan lotion. I did not hear the word “gnarly” spoken, but from the body language exhibited, and the good-natured request for a pair of rubber gloves, I knew that he too was in the same boat as I. He must have noticed the slow manner in which I was shaking my head because later while we were in the pool together, he struck up a conversation. The conversation soon turned to our children and how different today’s generation has become in terms of their willingness to “serve their elders” is how I believe he expressed it. He went on to share that he and his wife had “nursed” his parents at the end of their lives, and how difficult it had been to juggle careers, family, and the burden of long term caregiving.

I shared with him that I had been a caregiver to all four of my grandparents at one time or another from as young as age 13 when I assisted my grandmother on the weekends in taking care of my grandfather. He was horror-stricken to hear that I had assisted with changing soiled bed linen and personal clothing because my grandfather was bed-ridden with stomach and colon cancer, and later, a colostomy. When I shared that as an adult, I had changed my grandmother’s diaper (while she was living in a very upscale nursing home), I knew that he was reliving his own experiences with his parents.

For those who have read other articles in which I have shared my vacation experiences, the expectation might be that I followed up with a home interview during which this gentleman and his wife purchased a long-term care insurance policy and everyone lived happily ever after. I would love to report that this was the outcome, but like many people who still do not believe the evidence even when it is right in front of them, I came to realize that the denial with which this gentleman had cloaked himself was going to remain impenetrable and would adversely impact his family in the future.

Even though I was on holiday, when he presumed to begin to recite conflicting statistics about the likelihood of requiring this care, as well as how much it costs to purchase and maintain a long term care policy, I took it as an affront, and a challenge to educate he and his wife who had joined the conversation. I quickly agreed with him that long term care is expensive but, by comparison, a long term care insurance policy is quite inexpensive if not downright cheap by comparison.

I then dazzled them with my array of cold hard facts:

  • 90 percent of all couples [of any kind] will be impacted by long term care at some point.
  • 80 percent of all men who require care are married; 80 percent of women who require care are not married, largely due to the fact that they were their partner’s caregiver and were repaid for this effort by them dying on them.
  • 79 percent of all women who reach age 65 will require some form of long term care assistance before they die.
  • 70 percent of all folks over the age of 65 will require long term care.
  • No matter when you purchase the plan, or how long you pay on it, a policyholder will recoup their investment within the first 90 days of a claim.
  • Further, that with the new hybrid plans that offer both life and long term care protection, Live-Die-Quit, is a mantra that serves everyone. Nobody has ever successfully argued with me that they will not die and utilize the death benefit of the policy.

Even though we were staring out into the beautiful blue waters of the Sea of Cortez, I knew that he was still knee-deep in the Sea of Denial. His wife had pretty much accepted what I had said and was nodding her head in agreement and voicing that many of their friends had already purchased plans. Much like Archie Bunker of All in the Family he dismissed her comments, and I knew that I was staring at an object as immovable as El Arco, the arch, where the Pacific Ocean becomes the Sea of Cortez.

With a pleasant smile, and wishes for a good day, I dog paddled off to the other side of the pool, satisfied that I had done my best to eliminate ignorance (the lack of knowledge) and recognizing that, once again, I was unable to fix stupid.

It was shortly after this exchange that I witnessed another guest whom I had observed over the past week slowly moving along the edge of the pool utilizing a walker. He was shuffling along with a bag attached to the walker and, when he found one of his family members, I observed him reach into the bag hanging from the walker and extract a bottle of suntan lotion. While he was too far away for me to hear what he was saying, from his gestures I knew what assistance he was asking for from the younger woman I presumed to be his daughter. I glanced over at my denial-ridden acquaintance and smiled at him. The Fates do have a sense of humor. The look of recognition or just confusion on his face was enough for me to recognize that he was slowly learning the gnarly truth about long term care…

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.