NEW YORK (AP) – MetLife Inc. said Thursday it plans to stop selling long-term care insurance at the end of December and won’t sign up new customers into group plans as of next year.

The company will continue to honor existing policies as long as premiums are paid on time.

Long-term care insurance, which helps pay for care in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and home health aides, has become less profitable for insurers as the costs of health services increase and policyholders live longer.

In addition, insurers rely heavily on investment portfolios to help maintain business profitability. Very low interest rates have cut into investment yields and have forced some insurers to review portions of their business with marginal returns.

“While this is a difficult decision, the financial challenges facing the LTCI industry in the current environment are well known,” MetLife Vice President Jodi Anatole said in a statement.

MetLife will continue to accept new applications for individual policies received on or before Dec. 30. New enrollments into group plans will be discontinued next year as contracts expire.

The company said it is studying options for providing long-term care insurance, which may include combining LTCI features with other insurance products.

MetLife shares fell 96 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $39.96 in midday trading.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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