The country's largest long-term care insurer is making it tougher for people — especially women — to buy its policy.
Genworth Financial has announced that starting this spring it will begin taking gender into account when setting premiums on new policies. The reason: Women account for two out of every three dollars spent on claims, says Thomas Topinka, a company spokesman.
The change will mean that rates for female applicants could be up to 40 percent higher under the new pricing policy, says Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.
That's not the only change. The company will also start requiring all applicants to undergo the same type of medical exam that life insurers often require, including a blood test.
That's a break from how most long-term-care insurers operate, says Bonnie Burns, a policy specialist at California Health Advocates, a Medicare education and advocacy organization.
Generally, they ask applicants to sign a document that permits the company to examine their medical records if it wishes, she says.
"Typically they don't do that unless there's something on the application that raises a red flag," she says.
Long-term care insurance provides protection for people who need help with basic daily tasks such as bathing and dressing. It typically pays a set amount for a certain number of years - say, $150 daily for three years - for care provided in a nursing home, assisted living facility or at home.
The average annual premium for a 55-year-old who qualified for preferred health discounts and bought between $165,000 and $200,000 of coverage was $1,720 last year, according to the association.
Never a very popular product with consumers, many of whom found it unaffordable, the industry has struggled in recent years and many carriers have raised premiums by double digits or left the market, Forbes has reported.
Many people buy long-term care insurance in their 50s or 60s, decades before they make a claim, and long-term care insurers have struggled to accurately predict how much they'll have to pay out, says Slome of AALTCI. In addition, low interest rates have hurt insurers' investments, he says.
Genworth's changes are expected to have a strong impact on the market.
"What this does is highlight that we don't have a way in this country to pay for this type of care," says Burns. "This doesn't solve the financing problem. There are small number of people who can afford the product anyway."