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Is long-term care insurance the answer?

With nursing home costs averaging $70,000 a year, many American families are considering long-term care insurance to help pay for the needs of their aging parents. NBC's Anne Thompson introduces you to one couple for whom the finances made sense.

Sixty-five-year-old Julia Cardillo cares for her garden and birds during retirement near Tampa, Fla., with her husband, Paul, after raising two sons.

But 900 miles away, in Gaithersburg, Md., youngest child Matthew worried who would take care of them.

"That whole role reversal thing is difficult," he says, "because just bringing it up is difficult."

With nursing home costs averaging $70,000 a year, Matthew's answer is long-term care insurance — a subject Julia wasn't eager to talk about until they went to a financial planner.

"That was the apprehension," she says. "Can I afford this? Can Paul and I afford this?"

Matthew felt she couldn't afford not to buy it.

"From everything I've read, if you wait until you need it tomorrow, it's generally either unaffordable or unattainable," he says.

Since Medicare only covers 90 days of nursing home care after you've been in the hospital, financial planner Thomas Curtis says most people need some kind of help.

"I like to call long-term care 'wealth insurance,'" he says.

Curtis says it allows people like Julia to protect their home and other valuable assets. 

But this coverage doesn't come cheap. Yearly premiums can run you from around $1,000 to several thousand dollars depending on your age and the options you chose.

"There are four factors I ask people to address," says Dr. Marion Somers, a geriatric care manager and author of  with 'Eldercare Made Easier.' "One is the benefit factor; one is the waiting period factor, the amount factor and inflation."

And the earlier you buy it, the cheaper it is.

"I recently presented a proposal to a client where the premium was $1,250 a year," says Curtis. "If you look at that over a 40-year time period, you've only paid $50,000."

And that is far less than what an average yearly stay at a nursing home costs.

But as Julia Cardillo learned, you must budget for it, because if you stop paying the premiums, you lose your coverage.                 

"This gives options to everybody, including myself," she says.

And it gives long-distance families peace of mind.