Medicaid: The safety net for long term care

BY RON POLLACK Published: April 16, 2012
The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and the days are getting longer: It’s spring. And if that doesn’t put a bounce in your step, your federal incomes taxes are probably finished for the year.

So now you can relax, go for a walk, maybe clean out your closets. And think about the future.

As you plan ahead, you should give some thought to long-term care, which many of us will need someday. Long-term care is very expensive: A semi-private room in a nursing home costs, on average, close to $80,000 a year.

Home health care — which is preferred by most people — isn’t cheap, either. You could easily pay $25,000 a year for help that lets you keep living at home.

So what are your options? Medicare doesn’t cover either ongoing home health care or a long stay in a nursing home, a fact that sometimes comes as an unwelcome surprise to older Americans.

Long-term care insurance can help, but the policies can be pricey, and you have to keep up with the payments or the policy will lapse. If you do opt for long-term care insurance, be sure to consult a financial advisor — one with no financial stake in whether or not you buy a policy or which policy you choose.

You’ll need help finding a policy that covers the services you might want and that offers protection against inflation. If you end up needing care you can’t afford and you don’t have good long-term care insurance, there is a safety net: Medicaid.

Medicaid pays for about half of all long-term care provided in the United States. Unlike other health insurance, it will cover nursing home care, home health aides, and a host of support services, like transportation, that can make it possible for you to keep living in the community longer.

The specific services that are covered vary from state to state, but all states cover some long-term care through Medicaid.

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