John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Boston has created a suite of variable annuities meant to provide protection against the cost of care for the elderly.

The three Revolution products come with a feature unique to variable annuities -- an optional rider that adds a credit to the annuity value if the owner needs long-term care.

For an additional 35 basis points on the initial investment, a monthly benefit equal to 1% of the initial deposit is credited to the annuity value. The owner can use the credit to pay for nursing home or other expenses, with no surrender charge, or let it accumulate. The benefit is available seven years after the annuity is purchased.

Another rider provides, for 10 basis points on accumulated value, a waiver of surrender charges for withdrawals to pay for nursing home care or critical illness, access to an elder-care referral and consultation service, and discounts on long-term-care services through over 6,000 providers.

A relative latecomer to the variable annuity field, Hancock has created a product that will be hard for its competitors to copy, said Kenneth Kehrer, a consultant in Princeton, N.J.

"Because Hancock is a major provider of health insurance and long-term-care insurance, they have resources other annuity providers do not," he said.

The product should be attractive to consumers who might balk at paying high premiums for long-term-care insurance that they might never need, Mr. Kehrer added.

But Bruce M. Jones, vice president of annuity product management at Hancock, said the annuity is meant to supplement, not replace, long-term-care coverage.

"We view this as additional protection," he said. Ideally, he added, the annuity would raise investors' awareness of long-term-care insurance, prompting them to buy both.

The Revolution annuities have 32 fund investment options from 14 firms. They will be sold through Hancock's agency network, independent brokers, financial planners, broker-dealers, and over 300 banks.

Hancock's annuity sales totaled $1.4 billion in 1998. As of June the company and its subsidiaries had over $130 billion of assets under management.

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