The Tories say the scheme will not cost any public money
A "home protection scheme" to prevent older people having to sell their properties to fund long-term care has been unveiled by the Conservatives.
In England, residential care costs must be met by the individual if they have assets of more than £23,000.
Tory Health spokesman Andrew Lansley said, if elected, the party would invite people to pay a one-off charge of £8,000 at 65 to waive fees for life.
Ministers have dismissed the voluntary scheme as "flawed and hasty".
The government put forward its own proposals on elderly care at the Labour Party conference.
Gordon Brown outlined plans for a "National Care Service" so those with "the highest needs" could be cared for in their own home.
'Weight of worry'
The Conservatives say their scheme could be operated by existing insurers using branded products, with the government setting out basic rules and safeguards to ensure it remained financially viable over the long term.
They insist the voluntary scheme would be self-financing as only 20% of those paying in would get ill enough to have to draw on the scheme, and say no public money would be needed to operate it.
The party says 45,000 people are forced to sell their homes each year to pay for residential care, with a typical two-year stay costing £52,000.
Mr Lansley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the scheme was designed to be self-financing as more people would pay into it than would need care.
"Because there is that gap between the point at which the premium is paid and the point at which people become liable for long-term residential care, that means like any proper insurance scheme, a larger number of people want to insure against the risk than the number this will benefit.
"This scheme is a genuinely huge step forward for England's care system and will lift a major weight of worry from the shoulders of all older people and their families," he said.
"In 12 years, Labour have failed to offer older people any hope of a way out of the forced home sales crisis."
Writing in the Daily Mail, shadow chancellor George Osborne said it was an injustice people were forced to sell their houses to fund the cost of going into a care home.
But Care Services Minister Phil Hope called it a "flawed and hasty" idea.
He said: "£8,000 would not be enough to cover the cost of residential care. So where do they propose the rest of the money comes from?
"Few people choose to pay into voluntary schemes. And it's hard to see how it would prevent people from having to sell their homes. How many pensioners have £8,000 lying around? Or £16,000 if you're married?"
Patrick South, from Age Concern, said he welcomed ideas from all the political parties.
He said: "Last week we had the prime minister making his announcement on homecare for people with critical needs for care in the home and this weekend we're getting a proposal about residential care.
"I think what that indicates is that at long last this issue is at last central to the political debate."
Richard Humphries, from the King's Fund, the health think-tank, said: "I think the big challenge will be persuading enough people to join the scheme so the figures do add up.
"The more people join, the better it is, because there's more money going in. The crucial thing is will people be persuaded that this is something which is right for them and something they can afford."
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) broadly welcomed the Conservative scheme and said the details would need to be examined carefully.
A spokesman said: "The ABI has long advocated a partnership between the public and private sectors to deal with the crucial, and costly, issue of providing long-term care for the elderly.
"This proposal has many merits and we support its aims in principle - we're pleased that the Conservatives are addressing this issue in a serious way."