Navigating Medicare and Medicaid

If you’re caring for someone over the age of 65, chances are that you know something about Medicare, the health insurance program that covers nearly all older Americans. But there’s another really important program that you need to know about: MediCAID.

Medicaid is important because it’s the safety net when everything falls apart. When your frail mother has been caring for your dad at home alone for five years and she can’t do it any longer. When 24 hour a day home care is too expensive, and still not enough to keep your dad safe. And, then when his nursing home care quickly depletes their savings.

Maybe you’ve only heard about Medicaid as a program that provides health insurance under Obamacare. Well, for much longer than we’ve had Obamacare, Medicaid has been paying for nursing home care and in-home care for people who are very frail or disabled and whose income and assets are low or have been depleted by the costs of care.

Read: 5 Common Misconceptions About Medicaid

Currently, there are over 8 million Medicare beneficiaries who are also eligible for the full Medicaid benefit package, which includes varying degrees of LTC (long-term care) and coverage of their Medicare Part B premium, as well as deductibles and coinsurance. There are also another 4 million or so Medicare beneficiaries whose income is too high for the full Medicaid benefit package but who get some help from Medicaid paying Medicare out of pocket costs.

If you’re a caregiver for one of these 12 million folks, you don’t need me to tell you how confusing this all can be. For those of you who aren’t, think about how hard you’re already working to manage Medicare and now imagine layering another completely different program on top of that. It’s a full-time job in addition to all your other full-time jobs.

What’s especially confusing is that Medicare is basically one program that’s the same for everyone in the country, but Medicaid is different in every state. Each state has different rules about who qualifies for Medicaid and the available benefits, and some states are more generous than others. So, for example, one state will practically guarantee home-based services and supports for in-need older adults with monthly incomes as high as about $2500, while another state sets the income threshold much lower AND has a long waiting list for services.

A big issue is that, even if you qualify for both programs, they are rarely coordinated with each other. Family caregivers are faced with navigating two different sets of program rules and requirements, on top of coordinating all the other services their loved one needs and uses. Usually, for example, doctors, who are paid by Medicare, have no idea about the Medicaid long-term care services someone might be receiving at home to help with such things as bathing, dressing, or eating. These providers don’t talk to each other, in part, because the programs aren’t coordinated.

The good news is a few states are very organized. They’ve worked hard in collaboration with federal government staff to create a “one stop shop” where you can choose for both Medicare and Medicaid. These programs often assign the participants a care manager or case worker who helps coordinate everything. For example, Minnesota offers the Minnesota Senior Health Options program that “combines separate health programs and support systems into one health care package.”

The bad news is that a lot of states are still struggling to make the programs work better together and some states haven’t really tried. On the bright side there are a lot of philanthropies, experts and policymakers working to fix this. But they need our help. The solutions they develop MUST REFLECT your experience and SOLVE YOUR problems.

To that end, a wonderful foundation, Arnold Ventures, wants to hear directly from you about your current care experiences with the many services you might be arranging and managing. Services such as medications, medical equipment, physician services and in-home care and behavioral health services. They’re hosting a series of focus groups where I will be leading an hour-long confidential conversation about the care you provide and how well you are supported.

Arnold Ventures, together with my team, will use this input to recommend solutions to policymakers. If you are interested in participating, please go to this page and share your contact information so we can send you more information.

In the meantime, if you’re taking care of someone who is enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid, here are some tips for getting the best support you can.

The “PACE” Program. The Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) is a great program that many states offer through which very frail older adults who live in the community and are enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid can get services bundled into one package and delivered through adult day services. The program is widely seen as the gold standard for care coordination and integration. Unfortunately, not all states offer PACE but there may be one in your area. To check, you can consult google or go to the PACEFinder resources on the National PACE Association website.

Area Agencies on Aging (AAA). Some states contract with AAAs to help manage access to Medicaid resources. It’s worth checking out. Call your local AAA – which you can find here – to see what kind of information and support they provide.

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs. These programs are funded federally but available locally to help you navigate Medicare. It’s free — You can find out more here.

Daughterhood Circles. Don’t forget to check out whether there’s a Daughterhood Circle operating in your area or your state. Many meet virtually so you can join even if you’re not in the same neighborhood. The listing is on our website here. If you’d like to start a Circle and become a Circle leader, get in touch with us here.

5 Common Misconceptions About Medicaid

I have a confession. I’ve been avoiding writing about Medicaid. It’s just so complicated it scares even me the expert. But Medicaid can be really important to daughterhood.  Someday you might have to decide if it’s right for your parent. So, you have to get smart about it.

Why Medicaid is important? It’s important because it’s the safety net when everything falls apart.

When your frail mother has been caring for your Dad at home alone for five years and she can’t do it any longer. When 24 hour a day home care is too expensive, and still not enough to keep your dad safe. And, then when his nursing home care quickly depletes their savings.

Read More

Making Medicare Choices for Your Parents

“My dad doesn’t have Medicare!” A friend said to me recently.

“What?” I responded. This seemed unlikely. Pretty much everyone over age 65 has some form of Medicare and my friend’s dad is at least 90 years old.

Then he explained, “Dad has something called ‘Blue Cross advantage.’”

I explained that his dad does have Medicare but it’s a particular form of Medicare that private health plans (like BlueCross BlueShield) offer. It’s called “Medicare Advantage.”

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3 Resources to Ease Caregiver Money Worries

In a recent survey, AARP found that about three-quarters of all caregivers spend, on average, 20 percent of their household income on caregiving.

This is on top of the estimated $470 billion in unpaid care that they provide; and doesn’t include the potential lost income due to work-related strain that over half of caregivers report.

It’s clear that caring for a family member creates a financial hardship for many, and even a catastrophe for some; especially when caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

If you’ve experienced it, you know that there’s nothing worse than feeling financially strapped! Especially if you’re also feeling overwhelmed by caregiving responsibilities. So, if you are facing economic strain because of a caregiving situation, here are a few organizations that may be able to help.

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5 Dos and Don’ts for Staying Independent in Old Age

My inbox is filled with emails from caregivers trying to figure out how to pay for their parents’ care. They’re facing complicated and hard choices.

The big choices? Whether they should quit their job, move a parent into their home to avoid expensive care, or pay for care and risk running out of money. Or some combination of any or all of these.

That’s a really crappy set of choices.

We all agree that, regardless of your financial situation, it’s hard to be a caregiver… But, the truth is that it’s really scary to be a caregiver when you or your parents don’t have much money to pay for care….

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Don’t be Surprised by Medicare’s Out-of-Pocket Costs

My friend Quentin Fottrell is the Moneyologist columnist over at MarketWatch. He recently shared with his facebook group a reader question about whether a woman should help her 75-year-old sister with medical-related credit card debt.

Two commenters asked, “Why does she have medical costs? Isn’t she on Medicare?” They thought that Medicare covered most healthcare costs for older adults.

Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true. While Medicare is the primary health insurer for most older adults, it only pays a part of the healthcare bill. There are three kinds of out-of-pocket costs that we face!

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3 Medicare Benefits You MUST Know About

“What do you mean Medicare doesn’t cover this?” My friend Sarah was caught off guard when I told her that her parent’s health insurance program doesn’t cover her parents’ care.

What I explained is that there’s a lot Medicare doesn’t cover and one of the biggest gaps is the ongoing, long-term care that people need when they become frail or disabled.

This care is expensive! Hiring someone to help with cooking, laundry, transportation or personal hygiene can cost around $20 per hour!

So what do families do? Well, one of two things. They pay for this care out of their savings… or much of the time, DAUGHTERS PROVIDE THE CARE THEMSELVES.

In fact, new research shows that most of the really frail older adults in this country don’t live in a nursing home. Most live at home and the vast majority — 2/3rds to 3/4s — are being cared for ONLY by family members — unpaid.

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3 Powerful Ways to Avoid the Hospital

Americans have a love affair with hospitals.

We tend to think of doctors and nurses as the people who were working hard to make good grades while the rest of us were skipping class. I am pretty sure my brilliant, doctor friend Heather was walking around with a stethoscope at age four while I was still sticking Play-Doh up my nose.

This romantic affection for hospitals is not entirely misplaced. There are zillions of people who need life-saving surgery and who live longer because a hospital was able to treat them effectively. ERs in public hospitals handle an onslaught of some of society’s toughest cases; drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness.

But, you don’t want to start your caregiver journey in a hospital.

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Medicare Therapy Rules Made Easy

Most of us take for granted that we can get out of bed in the morning and do all the things necessary to head out and face our day. You know… the simple everyday things like moving around our house, showering, getting dressed and eating breakfast. I might be a little foggy most mornings but I don’t think about whether I’ll face an enormous challenge in measuring out the coffee or pouring the milk. The point is the routine is just that…routine.

But if your parent is frail, you know that there’s nothing routine about these activities — that for them, doing even the simplest things just can’t be taken for granted anymore.

The mobility and functioning that’s essential to independence and safety suddenly becomes a big effort. And, Daughterhood really happens when we have to get involved in helping our parents do the things that they can no longer do by themselves. This is when their lives and ours get hard.

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A Go-To Guide For Understanding Your Aging Parents’ Rehabilitation

I was 30 weeks pregnant with my daughter when a routine doctor’s visit uncovered the fact that a disconnected placenta had cut her off from getting food and water. Essentially, she was starving in utero. Later that same day, my girl was born by emergency C-section weighing in at just over 2 pounds.

Her early birth kicked off years of specialized healthcare and education, most of which was therapy to help her walk, talk and manipulate the tools she’d need to do even the simplest things like eat, use a pencil, and play with her toys.

I’m happy to report that today she’s a strapping 5’7” teenager who plays softball and the piano. And, while her gritty personality had a lot to do with her success, so did the physical, occupational and speech therapists working with her.

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