- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Radio and TV stations want listeners and viewers. Newspapers want readers. Web sites want hits. But what they want most because that's what advertisers want are customers in the 18 to 54 age range.

You may not look (or feel) any different on your 55th birthday, but to many people you become demographically invisible. You are occupying space, but that's about it.

The 18/54 crowd, for many if not most advertisers, is where the action and the disposable income is.

Auto insurance companies want people who don't have wrecks, health insurance companies want people who don't get sick and life insurance companies, well, you get the idea.

Which brings us to the federal government's long-term care group-insurance program. It promises coverage, at group rates, for the estimated 20 million members of the federal-military community and their extended (as in children and parents-in-law) family.

The federal LTC is a good deal for many people, especially older eligibles and those with bad family health histories. But for many younger, healthy feds, the best LTC buys (assuming you find a good, solid, stable company) are outside the federal program. They can buy an individual policy that because of their youth and health has lower premiums than the federal group plan.

There is a problem: The 2 million former feds (and spouses) who need LTC most are having trouble. Much of the information about LTC is available at the office, or on the Internet. Many retirees don't get the word. Many don't have a clue.

As late as last week we talked with a dozen retirees and these aren't losers who live in a cave who didn't know they were eligible for coverage. Or how to find out more about it. Or how to sign up.

Imagine walking through a dark room, with a blindfold on and hearing only muffled sounds. That's what many retirees and surviving spouses are "seeing" and "hearing" about the LTC program. And since they aren't in the 18 to 54 group mostly healthy folks who are years away from needing or using LTC benefits nobody is turning on many lights for them.

The Office of Personnel Management has an excellent Web site at www.ltcfeds.com.

But that Web site doesn't help if you don't have access to a computer,or understand how to surf the Net. That information, good as it is, might as well be buried inside a chest at the bottom of the ocean.

What retirees need to know is this:

•They are eligible to apply for coverage under the federal LTC plan.

•They must answer a series of health questions before they can be enrolled. Certain diseases or conditions will disqualify them. If former Attorney General Janet Reno, who has Parkinson's disease), were still in government, she would not be accepted for the program.

•The open-enrollment period for the LTC program ends Dec. 31. Many retirees have confused it with the health insurance open season that ends Dec. 9.

•Most people, unless they are very, very rich or very, very poor, need LTC insurance, although they hope they won't ever have to use it. But deciding how much coverage you need, and what you can pay, isn't something a neighbor can or should advise you on. Unless he or she is a certified financial planner. LTC is part of estate (as in asset preservation) planning.

What retirees need most before they can even get started is to be clued in to the program. Their guide could be a friend, relative or someone maybe at the public library who will get them the LTC information from the Office of Personnel Management (opm.gov) on the Internet and download (print out) the information.

Finally, OPM advises:

To speak to a certified long-term-care insurance specialist call: 800/LTC-FEDS (800/582-3337), hearing impaired (TDD: 800/843-3557 ) 8 a.m. midnight, Eastern time, seven days a week.


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