The Experts: Should People Buy Long-Term-Care Insurance?

That’s the headline of a The Wall Street Journal article out yesterday—the kind you’d assume would be one of those standard-issue business press special-section articles meant to draw ads from Fidelity and the like. Ring up three or four sources—an academic, the insurance industry, a personal-finance guru (and if you’re feeling ambitious, a consumer group)—type it up and call it good.

Not here. First up in the Journal piece is… Pat Sajak, whose expertise on long-term-care insurance is touted in his WSJ bio line: “host of the television game show ‘Wheel of Fortune.’”

Here is Sajak’s entire response:

I can’t speak with much authority on the advisability from a financial perspective. However, while it certainly seems to make good sense, the problem is—as it is with a lot of insurance issues—dealing with our natural denial instincts. Such coverage implies some rather unpleasant possibilities that most of us would rather not think about. Should we? Probably. Will we? Hmmm.

This is possibly the least expert answer the Journal could have printed. First, Sajak guts the WSJ’s premise about its “Experts” by disclaiming that “I can’t speak with much authority on the advisability from a financial perspective.”

Then he answers, with no support at all, that we “probably” should, never addressing who “we” are. Should I, a 35 year old, buy insurance? “Probably,” according to Pat Sajak, who makes several million dollars a year and surely self-insures. It’s the kind of exercise in bullshitting you’d expect from someone asked for their expertise on a topic that they know nothing about.

That’s not his fault, obviously. It’s the WSJ’s.

Up next after Sajak is… actress Morgan Fairchild.

Fairchild is presumably wealthy like Sajak, but unlike him she actually gives a sensible answer, and one that’s smart enough to ultimately offer this answer:

Consult a good financial planner for advice on how and when is best for you.

But who cares about what Morgan Fairchild and Pat Sajak think about long-term-care insurance? The five remaining experts quoted are basically the types you’d expect to see in such a piece.

You have to wonder what the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, say, thinks about playing third fiddle to Pat Sajak and Morgan Fairchild on retirement expertise.

 

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.