Long-term care insurance: Time to yell 'Run!' yet?

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

There is a memorable scene in the movie “Forrest Gump” when Lt. Dan chews out the well-intentioned title soldier for saluting him while the enemy is likely watching. The implication is that if you want to strike a crushing blow to something, you take out its leader.

Call it cutting off the head of the snake, taking out the top guy or whatever you want. Not only does eliminating a leader erase a primary means of getting direction, it also kills morale.

That's what I pondered Tuesday when I saw the bad news about long-term care insurer Genworth Financial. It is the largest U.S. seller of long-term care insurance and a holdout among the many large insurers that once sold LTC policies.

Gone, exiting the market or decreasing exposure are names like Prudential, MetLife, Unum and Hancock. But Genworth, despite altering its sales strategy, has always remained.

Capturing more than one-third of the long-term care insurance market, Genworth would be the one to stick it out. Genworth was the stalwart. (OK, it announced late last year it would have to get tougher about bottom line considerations. Annual premium increases, lesser likelihood of payouts down the road, and vanishing inflation hedges. But No. 1 would be marching on.)

Now, however, it might be time to yell, “Run, Forrest, run!”

Cracks that began to show last December, if not earlier, have made Genworth's long-term care business worthless. At least that's according to analysts at Macquarie Group Ltd. and Keefe, Bruyette and Woods.

On Monday, in fact, one of the analysts called for Genworth to close up the LTC shop.

Seems that recovery efforts attempted by Genworth CEO Tom McInerney are having trouble gaining traction. A third-quarter loss of $844 million was announced last week, triggering a 40% drop in stock value. This, in the wake of raising premiums and cutting future policy benefits. Not exactly the stuff of inspiration.

No wonder Standard & Poor's dropped Genworth's credit grade to junk.

Junk is not what you expect to see saluted on the battlefield.

So has the battle for the viable long-term care insurance policy already been lost? It seems the gradual but undeniable retreat of both clients and their sellers would indicate so.

Oh, don't look for an obituary for the long-term care policy in your local newspaper tomorrow. Just don't expect the industry to jump up off the operating room table to breathe significant new life into long-term care funding.

When your leader gets shot to the ground, there is usually not a lot of good that happens next.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @LTCEditorsDesk.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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