A great article was posted in Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch today by Alicia Munnell title, “Who Really Pays for Nursing Home Care?” Ms. Munnell makes a great point that Medicare does, in fact, pay for some aspects of long-term care even though you may have heard comments to the contrary. Yet, there is a very important distinction to be made, which is not adequately addressed in the article, and that is how one defines “long-term care.”

Typically, when someone says that Medicare does not cover long-term care they are referring to assisted living services, also called custodial care. For instance, if someone requires the in-home assistance of a caregiver to help with the activites of daily living, such as bathing or dressing, and you consider that to be long-term care, then it is correct to say that Medicare does not cover long-term care. Or, if someone moves to an assisted living facility but the facility does not provide skilled nursing care then, again, Medicare would not cover the cost of being in the facility. Yet if someone requires skilled medicare care- typically provided in a nursing care facility- then Medicare will cover the cost of such care on a limited basis and in accordance with other stipulations. Click here for detailed information Medicare’s coverage for nursing care.

Ms. Munnell’s point is well taken, however, that for the majority of people nursing home stays are rather short and Medicare will often cover most or all of the cost for such stays. Yet, readers should keep in mind that if they require assisted living services, which can also be extremely expensive, or if they fall outside of the averages and require skilled care for an extended period, there is still a great deal of financial exposure for the consumer. Families should plan accordingly for such possibilities and not rely on Medicare.

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