There’s a phrase: “Long-term health care isn’t about dying, it’s about living!” This may seem obvious, but many people do think of long-term health care incorrectly – in terms of death – but it’s really about the exact opposite.

Long-term care services are rendered with the intent of making life easier! Unfortunately, it has an adverse effect on too many individuals and their families because they don’t plan for it in advance, jeopardizing not only their financial assets but also their own livelihoods.

To get the ball rolling, here’s clarification of some common misconceptions around LTC and long-term care insurance (LTCI) before developing the right plan. Here are a few questions for a better understanding of LTC and future plans:

What does long-term care do?

Long-term care is care that generally extends beyond 90 days and is practical in nature, rather than medical.

Long-term care is the assistance or supervision a person may need when they are able to do some of the basic activities of daily living (ADLs) – bathing, dressing, eating, continence, toileting and transferring that can be taken for granted.

Some policies may even cover assistance of household chores such as errands, cooking, bill paying and other daily activities. For some, services include in-home visits that may be weekly or daily; for others, the care required necessitates 24 hour assistance at a nursing facility. Most importantly, LTC is not strictly for the elderly.

Long-term care events can affect anyone — at any age — who requires assistance with normal tasks.

Who pays for what?

If a person expects their health insurer to cover their long-term care needs, there’s a lot more to learn about LTC.

Health insurance covers very limited and specific services restricted to health care following an acute health issue that typically expires after 100 days.

Medigap/supplement policies likewise do not cover care that lasts beyond 100 days (if that). Disability insurance covers only a portion of a working person’s income but does not cover any costs associated with long-term care nor with those who are no longer in the workforce.

What about Uncle Sam?

Medicare focuses exclusively on medically-necessary care (i.e. hospital stays, drugs and doctor visits) for the short-term and not the practical services offered from LTC. Medicaid does pay for some long-term care — on the government’s terms — but comes with exceptionally tight financial requirements (i.e. poverty level income and savings) that make most Americans ineligible.

What about family obligations?

All of this leaves most families reliant on themselves to provide long-term care services. Some people may wish to cover the costs of long-term care for their spouses or even parents (so prepare accordingly); others will provide the care themselves, even if that means leaving the workforce (voluntarily or otherwise).

It’s imperative to have family communication about the expectations around these very real issues that impact families everyday. Thanks to an aging baby boomer population, more and more Americans are seeing their entire life savings depleted from the costs of long-term health care rendered that could have been foreseen and planned. Sadly, this depletion of assets directly affects those left behind – often a spouse or child.

What about additional risk factors to consider?

It’s important to have some grasp of any risk factors when planning appropriately for the future.

For example, someone may not develop Alzheimer’s themselves, even though they lost a parent to the disease; however,   the risk is higher. Knowing this, a person can prioritize their spending now while saving efficiently for future possibilities.

This gives a person more control over their future financial planning from multiple angles.

Is all LTC insurance created equal?

Long-term care policies can help bridge the gap between a person’s assets and the increasingly high costs of care that can continue for years on end. That said, LTCI is a very complex product that requires the skill and understanding of someone who thoroughly understands the product.

The right plan for any given person must take into account multiple factors including their age, health history, retirement savings, future plans, family obligations/expectations and more. LTCI plans are equally as diverse as the people who purchase the policies.

LTCI goes well beyond dollars.

Though a person will be rightly content knowing they have protected their assets, this not the aspect of LTC planning that resonates most with them. In fact, when on claim, it’s known that their loved ones rarely talk about the financial benefits of their LTC financial strategy and policies. Instead, they talk more about how much stress they relieved knowing that their children could continue to work and live according to their own plans without needing to move across the country and care for them in older age. They talk about how fortunate they are that their parents had the insight to purchase the right LTCI policy that allowed them to receive the assistance they needed when they needed it most.

So, long-term care really isn’t about death and dying… it’s absolutely about living! It’s about ensuring that those cared about most will be cared for and those that remain will not be saddled with unnecessary financial burdens. Start this conversation with your family now — while there’s time!