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How can women save on long-term care insurance?

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We're used to everyone paying the same price for the identical product, regardless of gender. However, in some cases, insurers are allowed to charge different prices based on characteristics such as age, health and gender. With long-term care policies, women tend to pay more than men.

The reason for that is simple. Statistically, women live longer than men. Therefore, insurers are more likely to have to pay out on a LTC policy for a woman, and potentially for a longer period of time.

Last year, LTC insurance rates for single women rose up to 40 percent, while rates for their male counterparts dropped 15 percent. Women who purchase insurance as part of a couple (married or unmarried) fare better. These "blended rates" only went up 3 percent. There may be some specific requirements for a couple's policy, such as having cohabitated for a designated length of time.

The National Women's Law Center is trying to change what can be an expensive discrepancy. The NWLC has filed complaints about four major LTC insurers with the Department of Health and Human Services. The group contends that "gender distinct" rates constitute health care sex discrimination, which is a violation of the Affordable Care Act.

In sixteen states, including California, at least one major insurer still offers unisex rates for LTC policies. However, if you don't live in one of those states and until the NWLC's legal move succeeds (if it does), what can single women do to help lower the cost of this coverage? There are a number of options. For example:

-- Don't wait to buy LTC insurance until you're in your 60s and older. Premiums will likely be higher and you might not even qualify if you have certain health conditions.

-- Compare policies before you buy. Rates can vary significantly among insurers.

-- Consider a "hybrid" policy, which is a life insurance policy that contains a LTC rider. These policies can be used for long-term care if needed. In some, but not all, cases, these are less expensive than LTC policies.

-- Instead of a policy with "permanent" coverage, consider one that pays benefits for three to five years. This would cover more than the average nursing home stay.

A LTC insurance policy can be an important investment in your future. However, it's essential to take some time to make a prudent financial decision when choosing a policy.

Source: Next Avenue, "Women and Long-Term Care Insurance," Kerry Hannon, accessed Nov. 18, 2015

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