EBRI Issue Brief

Employer-Sponsored Long-Term Care Insurance: Best Practices for Increasing Sponsorship

Apr 1, 2000 24  pages


  • Behind the enthusiasm of policymakers for long-term care (LTC) insurance is the belief that increased ownership of private LTC insurance will reduce the government's future liability for financing the nation's LTC needs, currently projected by the Congressional Budget Office to increase by 2.6 percent annually between 2000 and 2040. Some observers say that sustained economic growth could keep these increased expenditures at the same share of total GDP; others argue that current federal expenditure trends will become unsustainable without large tax increases.
  • The potential of the employer-sponsored group LTC market to stave off a national LTC financing crisis has recently started to receive popular notice in the news media. However, for the potential of the group LTC market to be realized, there must be widespread employer sponsorship of group LTC plans and significant participation levels among eligible employees in these plans.
  • The present analysis of industry data estimates the LTC plan sponsorship rate for all U.S. employers with 10 or more employees at 0.2 percent. The sponsorship rate among large employers is significantly higher (8.7 percent). The greatest growth opportunities are projected to lie in the smaller employer market, because it is enormous and virtually untapped.
  • Nonsponsors cite a variety of barriers to employer sponsorship of LTC plans. For many nonsponsors, the most important obstacles are the intrinsic characteristics of their work forces: employees are too young, transient, part-time, and/or low-income to be suitable for LTC insurance. For many others, lack of awareness and low priority are the primary obstacles. Because group LTC insurance has been widely available for only 10 years, many benefits managers view it as “too new and untested.”
  • Prior to the passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), in August 1996, the tax treatment of long-term care insurance premiums was unclear because Congress had not addressed the issue and the Internal Revenue Service had not issued clear guidance. In essence, HIPAA served to clarify the tax status of LTC insurance and establish product criteria for tax qualification.
  • The interventions contained in HIPAA appear to have been insufficient to stimulate coverage growth rates that will meaningfully reduce the future burden on government financing of LTC.
  • Although employment-based LTC insurance appears to be the best mechanism for mass expansion of coverage at affordable rates, the data suggest that employer sponsorship of LTC plans is relatively rare, especially among smaller employers, and that sponsorship rates may not dramatically increase without significant investments in employer education and new incentives.