In surveys of federal employees, the government's health insurance, life insurance and vacation benefits score high marks. The surveys also show that employees feel less comfortable about offering an opinion on relatively new benefits, such as long-term care insurance.
The Office of Personnel Management recently reported that 56 percent of 150,000 employees in a 2004 survey described themselves as "neutral" on long-term care insurance. Thirty-three percent reported they were satisfied with the program, an increase of 12 percentage points since the program's launch in 2002.
Employees may be moving slowly to embrace the program because the issues swirling around long-term care insurance are more complex than those encountered in most other benefit programs.
Experts emphasize that signing up for a long-term care policy usually requires a long-term financial commitment. The cost and benefits of policies have to be evaluated against a family's assets and overall financial planning goals. There are multiple other questions to address.
Will your long-term care needs be met in your home, in adult day care, in an assisted-living facility, in a nursing home or in some other manner? Will you be comfortable in the assisted-living and nursing homes in your area? Do you know what they cost? Have you estimated how much you will be able to pay on your own for long-term care?
Experts also urge employees and retirees to do their homework before signing up. Even though the federal program has the government's backing and leverage, people who can show they are in good health can find private-sector policies that may save them money on premiums.
The federal long-term care program has attracted 208,386 enrollees as of May 31, according to OPM. And it's a program with potential to grow.
The legislation authorizes coverage for about 20 million Americans: federal and postal employees and retirees, active and retired members of the military, employees and retirees of the D.C. courts, D.C. government employees and retirees who were hired before Oct. 1, 1987, surviving spouses and some other relatives, such as adult children of living employees and retirees and parents of living employees.
OPM, for the most part, has left it to Congress to define who is eligible for the insurance and who falls into the category of "qualified relatives." In May, for example, OPM said it planned to stick with the law and rebuffed comments suggesting that the program should expand to cover domestic partners of federal employees.
Officials have tried to design the program's coverage in a way that makes choices as easy as possible for employees and retirees. It offers four prepackaged plans and also allows enrollees to customize their coverage and benefits.
About 65 percent of the enrollees have signed up for one of the prepackaged plans, which offer various options for daily benefits, maximum lifetime benefits, inflation protection and the length of time that the insurance will last. All have 90-day waiting periods -- the time it takes for benefit payments to start after you become eligible for them.
The majority of the enrollees -- 61 percent -- are government employees and their spouses, the OPM data show. Their average age is 51 at the time they apply for coverage. Retirees make up 33 percent of enrollees and are 63, on average, when they apply. The remainder of the enrollees fall into the category of qualified relatives.
The "Comprehensive 100" is the most popular of the prepackaged plans. It covers care in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and hospices and covers services received at home, in adult day care and under other circumstances.
Premiums are based on age and options chosen, such as inflation protection. Unlike in the health insurance program, the government does not pick up part of the cost as employer.
For example, an employee choosing a Comprehensive 100 policy at age 50 would pay a biweekly rate of $28.70 for coverage that includes automatic compound inflation protection. A person who is 60 would pay $43.01 biweekly for the same plan.