NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Why Doesn't the Market Fully Insure Long-Term Care?

David M. Cutler

NBER Working Paper No. 4301
Issued in March 1993
NBER Program(s):   PE   HC   AG

This paper examines the failure of the private market to fully insure long-term care. I argue that the failure is a result of large intertemporal variability in the cost of long-term care. Unlike variability in cross section use, variability in the cost of care affects everyone in a pool and therefore cannot be diversified within a cohort. Further, since costs are serially correlated, the cost risk cannot be diversified across cohorts. Estimates suggest that the standard deviation of cost uncertainty is on the order of 4 to 14 percent for an average long-term care policy. In response to this cost risk, most long-term care policies do not insure real benefits. Policies generally pay a fixed nominal amount for care, which is updated using predetermined nominal rules. Many policies also have lifetime maximum payments and other restrictions on aggregate risk bearing by the insurer. The lack of complete long-term care insurance may be one explanation for the low rate of purchase of long-term care policies.

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