House passes long-term care insurance bill

The House Tuesday passed legislation offering long-term care insurance for civilian and military federal employees and retirees.

Long-term care is not part of any current health insurance plan offered to federal employees, their dependents or retirees.

In March of this year, Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on the Civil Service, introduced H.R. 4040 to broad bipartisan support. Co-sponsors of the bill, known as the Long-Term Care Security Act, include Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md., both members of the Civil Service Subcommittee.

"I am very encouraged that today we moved a step closer to achieving our ultimate goal of ensuring that every American is offered long-term care," said Scarborough.

The bill directs the Office of Personnel Management to invite bids from private insurers to offer coverage for employees and their spouses, children and other close relatives, at discounted group rates. Employees and their eligible family members would pay the insurance premiums, but rates are expected to be discounted as much as 20 percent.

Purchase of long-term care coverage by employees is optional.

Long-term care insurance covers the medical costs of extended illness, including home health care, nursing home care and care in assisted living facilities. Long-term care can be very expensive-nursing homes, for example, can cost on average $50,000 per year for adequate coverage.

OPM will screen insurance providers and make sure employees receive all the necessary information on insurance options and benefits.

"The passage of this legislation proves that people are coming to terms with the very real fact that the population of the United States is getting older, a population that will need long-term care options," said OPM director Janice R. Lachance.

Scarborough has said he hopes the government's action will encourage private employers to bargain with long-term care insurers to get discounted rates for their employees.

Rates for private coverage for long-term care vary widely, depending on the type and duration of benefits and the age of the person who secures the policy. Like life insurance rates, long-term care is less expensive for younger policyholders.

H.R. 4040 now moves on to the Senate for consideration. President Clinton is expected to sign the bill if it passes both houses of Congress.

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