WASHINGTON - Within two years, 13 million federal workers, retirees and military personnel will be able to purchase long-term care insurance at group rates under a measure signed into law yesterday by President Clinton.
Like many private employers who offer such insurance, the federal government will not subsidize the premiums for long-term care policies.
But advocates of the bill, which include a cross-section of lawmakers from both parties as well as the administration, said the law would make it easier for federal employees to prepare for their long-term health needs and encourage more private employers to make such group policies available.
"This is an important down payment toward finding solutions to the exploding problem of long-term care in this country," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
"Without long-term care coverage, no family has real security against the costs of chronic illness or disability," she said.
Through federal group coverage, long-term care insurance premiums are expected to be 15 percent to 20 percent cheaper than if the policies were purchased individually.
Not all the intended beneficiaries were enthusiastic about the new option.
"We don't think it's a benefit worthy of the term," said Jacqueline Simon of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union of federal workers. Unless premiums are subsidized by the government, she said, long-term care insurance is too expensive to be practical for most federal workers.
For those who make less than $75,000 a year and have less than $150,000 in assets not including the family home, she said, it makes more sense to rely on nursing home care through the Medicaid program, which provides benefits when most assets are gone.
But Trish Smith of AARP warned that there's no guarantee Medicaid benefits won't be cut.