Medicare and Medicaid for Your Loved One's Care

Reviewed by Sarah Goodell on July 27, 2021

As a caregiver, you'll need to plan for the long-term needs of your loved one, including how to pay for medical bills. Medicare and Medicaid can be important parts of their care.

What Is Medicare and What Does It Cover?

Medicare is a federal health insurance program that gives benefits to Americans ages 65 and older. It also covers some disabled people under 65.

It has four parts, and they each cover different aspects of your loved one's care.

Part A covers inpatient services and supplies that they need to treat a disease or condition. For most people, Medicare Part A is free. That includes things like:

  • Hospital care
  • Skilled nursing facility care after a hopsital stay for a limited time. This includes things like getting an injection. It doesn't include help with daily tasks such as bathing and getting out of bed.
  • Home health services, such as a visiting nurse or a physical, occupational, or speech therapist
  • Blood transfusions at a hospital or skilled nursing facility
  • Medical supplies
  • Hospice care that keeps a sick person comfortable at the end of their life
  • Mental health treatment given in a hospital

Part B requires a monthly premium and covers outpatient care like doctor visits and:

  • Preventive services to keep a person healthy
  • Ambulance rides
  • Physical, speech, and occupational therapy
  • Medical supplies and equipment such as wheelchairs, hospital beds, oxygen, and walkers
  • Blood transfusions if you don't need to stay overnight in a hospital
  • Medical/surgical supplies and services for outpatients (you don't stay overnight in a hospital)
  • Mental health care when you don't need to stay overnight in a hospital

Part C is also known as Medicare Advantage. These are insurance plans you buy from private insurers that are approved by Medicare. If you get one, you're still in the Medicare program, but you'll get your Part A and Part B benefits from the Medicare Advantage Plan and use only doctors and hospitals in the Plan’s network. You will still need to pay your Part B premium under a Medicare Advantage plan and some plans charge a monthly premium as well.

Part D pays for part of your prescription drugs. Medicare works with insurers and other private companies to offer different plans. You will pay a monthly premium and part of the drug costs. Some Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drugs so you may not need a separate Part D plan if you join one of those. Check with your Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Coverage of Skilled Nursing Care Homes

Medicare offers some coverage, for a limited time, if your loved one needs to enter a skilled nursing care home. But there are certain conditions they have to meet in order get it, such as:

  • They need to have had a 3-day hospital stay before being admitted to the skilled nursing home. There are some exceptions though, so check the Medicare web site for details.
  • They must be admitted into the skilled nursing home within 30 days of leaving the hospital.
  • They need to enter the skilled nursing home for treatment of the same condition that they were treated for in the hospital.
  • They must need daily skilled care.
  • The home must be Medicare-certified.
  • Their doctor must write a care plan.

Medicare Coverage of Home Health Care

Medicare pays for some home health care costs of your loved one. The requirements include:

  • They must be homebound.
  • Their doctor must approve a treatment plan.
  • They must need skilled nursing care, but not all the time.
  • They don't need attention more than 35 hours a week or 8 hours a day.

What Is Medicaid?

Medicaid is joint federal-state health insurance that pays some medical costs for Americans with low incomes.

Coverage differs from state to state. For guidelines, contact your state's Department of Human Services.

Usually, the benefits include:

Transportation. Ambulance rides to and from the hospital. They can be for emergencies or simply needed to keep your loved one's condition stable. Medicaid may also cover trips to and from a clinic or doctor's office.

Ambulatory care. This is care outside of a hospital setting like physician visits, preventive care, therapy, and rehab under the direction of a doctor.

Ambulatory services covered by Medicaid also include dentists, pharmacists, and eye doctors.

Hospital services. These include stays of up to 60 days. Private rooms are covered only when they have got an illness that requires them to be kept away from other patients.

Outpatient hospital services are also covered, which means they don't need an overnight hospital stay.

Labs and image tests such as X-rays and MRIs are also covered.

Medical supplies and medications. These are covered when prescribed by their doctor, dentist, or podiatrist (foot doctor). Some medical equipment, such as hospital beds, wheelchairs, side rails, and oxygen tanks, is also covered.

Home health care. They are covered for visits by a nurse, home health aide, or physical therapist.

Skilled nursing homes. These and intermediate-care facilities (which provide short-term treatment for a patient whose condition is stable or reversible) are covered with a doctor's consent.

Long-term care. Medicaid is the largest payer of long-term care services. How these services are provided varies by your state. There are some programs that will provide for all health and housing needs through one program called the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). States may provide more flexible care through home and community-based waivers. Some states even have programs to pay family caregivers to take care of Medicaid patients and help keep them out of nursing homes.