It’s not over yet.

Federal workers and retirees participating in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program had until Sept. 30 to make a decision about their coverage. But there’s still a window to make a change.

Their need to make a decision was prompted by an announcement that John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Co., which administers the program, would need to impose staggering premium increases on most enrollees.

The fallout has been fierce.

“When we first got the letter from (the Office of Personnel Management), we were shocked beyond belief,” one reader wrote. “My husband (77) and I (68) signed up in 2002. Imagine our ire when we were notified that our premiums would increase. To maintain current coverage, my husband’s premium would go up from $285 a month to over $560. Mine would increase from $136 to $400.”

Others feel they were low-balled by previous premiums.

“We have paid premiums for 15 years and now the insurance is nearly unaffordable, just when we are too old to find an alternative,” David and Marilyn Weaver wrote in a letter to OPM noting that her premium increased 126 percent from $267.73 per month to $605.07.

Legislative efforts to roll back the increases – or at least delay the decision period – went nowhere. But even if you aren’t in the FLTCIP, this is a story you should be following.

Many people with privately obtained long-term care insurance policies have received similar notices of steep jumps in premiums. The advice to federal workers could also apply to you.

I’ve heard from people with long-term care insurance who feel it financially saved their family. Others complain that companies sometimes stall so long in approving benefits that the policyholders recover or die before receiving any payouts.

Still more people wonder how they can be assured that the insurance companies will be around and financially viable to pay on claims that may not come for 20, 30 or 40 years. These are issues I’ll address in future columns.

But for now, it’s people in the federal program I’m trying to help.

Yes, there was the Sept. 30 deadline. But if you are enrolled in the program, you have an opportunity to reconsider your options.

By mid-October, enrollees will be sent a confirmation package that will confirm coverage and the premium effective Nov. 1, according to Long Term Care Partners, a subsidiary of John Hancock. You have 30 days from the date you receive the confirmation package to make a change.

During the review period, people can request a change by calling the customer service center. You won’t be able to make changes online. Call 800-LTC-FEDS (800-582-3337) or TTY 800-843-3557. Alternatively, send an email to [email protected] to schedule a phone call.

To help FLTCIP enrollees weigh their options, Carolyn McClanahan, a physician who is also a certified financial planner, participated in an online discussion addressing the various choices including making premiums more affordable by reducing the length of coverage and the inflation-rate option. She answered additional questions in my weekly electronic newsletter.

Here’s one situation she evaluated.

The background: The wife, 83, got her policy in 2002. She declined the premium increase to $354.05.

She’s keeping her current monthly payment of $276.60 with a daily benefit of $219.20 reduced from $241. Payments for her policy through the years have totaled nearly $30,000.

The husband, 86, who signed up in 2004, was offered a daily benefit of $225 for a monthly premium of $431.85. He declined the increase and will continue to pay his present monthly payment of $352.82 but with daily benefits reduced from the current $225 to $206.07. Payments for his policy have totaled about $37,000.

“Both of us are at an age that we might be in danger of needing the insurance we counted on,” the wife wrote. “It seems to me it would have been better to have saved the money in a bank.”

Given their ages, McClanahan said the couple could be fine with paying their current premiums and accepting the downward adjustment in benefits, especially if they have pensions that will help pick up some costs.

“Basically, their savings at this point would have covered about half a year of care for each of them versus over three years of care with the long-term care insurance benefit,” McClanahan pointed out.

As you look at this insurance product or reconsider your coverage options be sure not to sign up for more than you can afford.

And you’d be wise to leave room in your budget for more premium increases in the future.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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