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June 13, 2016

Time for a ‘Nudge’ on Long-Term Care

Summary:

Only 8% of Americans buy insurance for long-term care. Six approaches from behavioral economics can help more people see the benefits.

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For years, the go-to approach with clients for discussing long-term care insurance (LTCi) solutions has been from an educational perspective. The idea was that if we could just get a prospective customer to lower his guard long enough to understand the strong statistical rationale or risk in favor of LTCi, the decision would become clear to him, and coverage would be purchased.

As logical as all that sounds, maybe our logic is flawed? The reality we’re facing in the LTCi industry is that this approach is likely not the most effective way to lead Americans into action on LTCi. What we’ve experienced is that, despite our best efforts and compelling factual arguments in favor of LTCi, adoption rates have consistently hovered around 8%, which corresponds with the percentage of the population that is predisposed to long-term planning by nature.

So why isn’t the traditional approach to planning for LTCi working for the other 92%? The answer, it turns out, might be found in some fascinating recent research into “behavioral economics,” which considers economic decision making from a psychological perspective. Best-selling books such as Nudge (Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein) and Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman) have explored the ramifications of this fascinating topic.

The idea is that people really don’t act rationally, as classical economics assumes. Instead, people are motivated to act based on their emotions and impulses. Moreover, the choices we make are very dependent on how options are presented to us.

See also: Can Long-Term Care Insurance Survive?

Companies and governments have recently used the findings of behavioral economics to try and “nudge” people to take actions. For example, more companies now auto-enroll employees in 401(k) plans and make them opt-out if they don’t want to join. The result has been a big increase in 401(k) participation. Another finding—that too many choices lead to inaction—has led to a narrowing of investment options. Similarly, “default” choices, such as target date funds, are now part of many 401(k) plans.

Here are six ways in which the findings of behavioral economics can help improve your closing rate when doing LTCi planning with clients:

  1. Keeping choices as simple as possible. As an adviser, you may think your job is to give a possible buyer multiple options for planning for care, such as spread sheeting several insurance carriers or comparing standalone and linked products. However, the reality is that consumers don’t want this—they want a recommendation with just a few choices. Share your due diligence, but limit the information to what you consider the best options for them to consider.
  2. Focus on the possible gain LTC will provide instead of the possible loss. Research has shown that, just like gamblers, we all want to win, and we don’t like to think about losing. People who are considering LTCi don’t want to think about loss when planning for care, such as how their retirement savings may be depleted. Instead, focus on the fact that a small LTCi premium gives the policyholder the possibility of a big payoff in benefits. For example, a $2,000 annual premium could result in $300,000 to pay for high-quality care at home.
  3. Use stories, not statistics! Statistics are important for discovering trends and insights, but they are awful when used for discussing LTC planning. People are way too optimistic about their future and think they will be on the winning side of a statistic. Focusing on stories and experience that motivate prospects is much better than using statistics that can destroy empathy when talking about planning for LTC.
  4. Focus on “now” benefits, not the future.  It’s incredibly difficult for people to imagine aging and needing help. Instead, focus on the “now” benefits of LTCi.  The now benefits are more difficult to quantify, but they can include peace of mind, good health underwriting and locking into a lower premium before a birthday.
  5. Help guide heuristics (rules of thumb). For analytical advisers, it’s tempting to use tools such as cost-of-care surveys that project the cost of care 40 years in the future when designing plans. A better approach is to “follow the crowd” and recommend benefits similar to what policyholders are actually buying. You may think people want customized solutions, but most would feel more comfortable picking options similar to other buyers. Recommend they do what most people are doing.
  6. “Nudge” a choice.  When people have to make a decision, such as actively signing off on the fact they have been offered LTCi but declined, they will be more likely to buy. LTC planning is easy to delay, and people need motivations to keep them from delaying the decision forever.

See also: Long Term Care Insurance: Group plan vs Individual

Behavioral economics is a controversial topic, but we think it offers an important critique of the way we have traditionally approached LTCi planning with prospective clients. Employing some of its findings might move us beyond the 8% threshold of highly motivated long-term planners to help the remaining 92% of the population engage in meaningful consideration of their long-term care needs.

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About the Author

Steve Cain is a principal and national sales leader for LTCI Partners, one of the nation’s largest long-term care insurance retail and wholesale brokerage enterprises.

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