It’s a seemingly straight-forward question… one that  I’m often asked… but unfortunately for consumers, there is no one simple answer to the query, “What is the cost of assisted living? And how much will I pay for it?”

Assisted living facility: A senior living option for people needing assistance with daily living; provides nursing care, housekeeping, prepared meals, and more.

As seniors or their family members begin to research various assisted living facilities, they will inevitably see statistics from sources like Genworth’s cost of care calculator showing the average monthly cost of assisted living and other types of care. These are great tools for getting a ballpark idea of assisted living expenses by region, but the cost can vary dramatically among different facilities and even among different residents within a facility.

>>Related: Distinguishing Between Types of Retirement Communities

Assisted living fees you can expect to pay

People who are researching assisted living facilities should understand how pricing works. It is important to know that most assisted living providers charge a la carte, as described in the fee breakdown below, but others are all inclusive.

An upfront fee (one time)

Most assisted living facilities will charge future residents a reservation deposit. Sometimes referred to as a “community fee,” this deposit may be a couple thousand dollars or so and reserves the accommodations of your choice for a certain period of time. Typically, this deposit is not applied to any other charges and is sometimes refundable only if the would-be resident is unable to move into the facility for health reasons.

A base fee (monthly)

In short, this is your monthly “rent” once you live in the assisted living facility. The cost varies depending upon the size of the residential unit and whether you live alone or have a companion. Most base fees are inclusive of most utilities, basic housekeeping, maintenance, and some meals. The base fee is also based on the type of services you need; i.e. independent living, assisted living, or memory care.

A care services fee (monthly)

This fee typically uses a tiered approach based upon the level of care you need (or want), and it gets added to the monthly base fee. The level of care is usually based on the number of ADLs (activities of daily living) for which a resident requires regular assistance. ADLs include activities such as bathing, eating, dressing, toileting, etc. The monthly cost of assisted living care services may range from $150 or so for tier one and could go up to a few thousand dollars per month for tier five assisted living care. Accurately assessing the amount of care needed is one of the most important aspects of the decision process and also one of the more difficult to understand. The more thorough, clinical, and detailed the assesment, the better the plan of care and understanding of the cost.

Example: Suppose one assisted living facility says the cost per month will be around $5,000 and another says it will be around $6,000. Also suppose you actually like the higher cost facility better but ultimately choose the lower cost facility because it will save $12,000 per year. However, after your loved one has lived in the lower cost facility for a month you get a call saying that she needs more care than originally thought and they need to bump her up to another tier. Now it will cost over $6,000 per month, more than the other facility that you liked better to begin with.

Medication management & other ancillary services (monthly)

Many seniors need assistance remembering to take medicines at the right time and in the right dosage, so most assisted living communities provide medication management services for an additional fee­–usually a few hundred dollars per month, depending on the complexity of the medicine administration. If needed, additional ancillary services like physical or occupational therapy would also be charged on a monthly basis, as well as non-care related services, possibly including parking, additional meals, and some activities.

All-inclusive assisted living pricing

An assisted living provider that operates under an all-inclusive pricing model spreads the total cost of services for the entire facility across all residents. In theory, some residents would pay more than they might pay in a la carte facility and others will pay less, depending on the amount of care they are receiving. The advantage, however, is that residents can more accurately plan for their monthly cost over the long term, regardless of the level of care received. Yet, some all-inclusive facilities may have a cap on the degree of services they can provide under the all-inclusive price. They may also charge for other ancillary expenses on occassion so be sure to inquire about all of the potential costs or limits.

Low income options

For seniors that qualify a government-supported assisted living facility will provide services at a lower overall monthly cost. You can contact the specific agency in your state to learn more about affordable senior living options in your state and qualification guidelines. Most of these facilities will also accept Medicaid.

Medicare will not help

As you can see, the monthly costs associated with assisted living vary widely and can really add up, so it is important to plan ahead for this potential expense. A major misconception is among consumers is that Medicare will cover the cost of assisted living but this is not the case. Medicare only covers skilled medical care, and for a temporary period of time. (Note: I  am referring here to Medicare, not Medicaid.)

Assisted Living and Long-Term Care Insurance

If you have a long-term care insurance policy that was purchased within the past five to 10 years, you are likely covered for some or all of your assisted living expenses. Learn more about what to consider with your long-term care policy by reading our previous posts:

A Concise Explanation of Long-Term Care Insurance—Part I

A Concise Explanation of Long-Term Care Insurance- Part II

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