Who Pays for Home Care?

Home care services can be paid for directly by the patient and his or her family members or through a variety of public and private sources. Hospice care generally is provided regardless of the patient’s and/or family’s ability to pay. Public third-party payors include Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, the Veterans Administration, and Social Services block grant programs. Private third-party payors include commercial health insurance companies, managed care organizations, TRICARE, and workers’ compensation.

Self-pay

Home care services that fail to meet the criteria of third-party payors must be paid for “out of pocket” by the patient or other party. The patient and home care provider negotiate the fees.

Public Third-party Payors

Medicare

Most Americans older than 65 are eligible for the federal Medicare program. If an individual is homebound, under a physician’s care, and requires medically necessary skilled nursing or therapy services, he or she may be eligible for services provided by a Medicare-certified home health agency. Depending on the patient’s condition, Medicare may pay for intermittent skilled nursing; physical, occupational, and speech therapies; medical social work; home health aide services; and medical equipment and supplies. The referring physician must authorize and periodically review the patient’s plan of care. With the exception of hospice care, the services the patient receives must be intermittent or part time and provided through a Medicare-certified home health agency for reimbursement.

Hospice services are available to individuals who are terminally ill and have a life expectancy of six months or less; there is no requirement for the patient to be homebound or in need of skilled nursing care. A physician’s certification is required to qualify an individual for the Medicare Hospice Benefit. The physician also must re-certify the individual at the beginning of each six-month benefit period. In turn, the patient is required to sign a statement indicating that he or she understands the nature of the illness and of hospice care. By signing this statement, the patient surrenders his or her rights to other Medicare benefits related to terminal illness.

Medicaid

Administered by the states, Medicaid is a joint federal-state medical assistance program for low-income individuals. Each state has its own set of eligibility requirements; however, states are only mandated to provide home health services to individuals who receive federally assisted income maintenance payments, such as Social Security Income and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and individuals who are “categorically needy.” Categorically needy recipients include certain aged, blind, and/or disabled individuals who have incomes that are too high to qualify for mandatory coverage but below federal poverty levels. Individuals younger than 21 who meet income and resources requirements for AFDC, yet otherwise are ineligible for AFDC, also qualify as categorically needy. Under federal Medicaid rules, coverage of home health services must include part-time nursing, home health aide services, and medical supplies and equipment. At the state’s option, Medicaid also may cover audiology; physical, occupational, and speech therapies; and medical social services. Hospice is a Medicaid-covered benefit in 38 states. The Medicaid hospice benefit covers the same range of services that Medicare does.

Private Third-party Payors

Commercial Health Insurance Companies

Commercial health insurance policies typically cover some home care services for acute needs, but benefits for long-term services vary from plan to plan. Commercial insurers, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield and others, generally pay for skilled professional home care services with a cost-sharing provision. Such policies occasionally cover personal care services. Most commercial and private insurance plans will cover comprehensive hospice services, including nursing, social work, therapies, personal care, medications, and medical supplies and equipment. Cost-sharing varies with individual policies, but often is not required.

Individuals sometimes find it necessary to purchase Medigap insurance or long-term care insurance policies, for additional home care coverage. Medigap insurance is designed to bridge some of the gaps in Medicare coverage. Some Medigap policies offer at-home recovery benefits, which pay for some personal care services when the policyholder is receiving Medicare-covered skilled home health services. The policyholder’s physician must order this personal care in conjunction with the skilled services. Home care coverage in Medigap policies is not designed to cover extended long-term care. This type of coverage is most helpful to individuals recovering from acute illness, injuries, or surgery.

Long-term care insurance primarily was intended to protect individuals from the catastrophic expense of a lengthy stay in a nursing home. However, as the public need and preference for home care has grown, private long-term care insurance policies have expanded their coverage of personal care, companion-ship, and other in-home services. Considerable care should be taken in selecting a long-term care insurance policy, as home care benefits vary greatly among plans. Consumers should be aware of limitations on coverage, such as prior hospitalization requirements, and pre-existing condition exclusions. Some policies may only pay for services that are already covered by Medicare.

Managed Care Organizations

Managed care organizations (MCOs) and other group health plans sometimes include coverage for home care services. MCOs contracting with Medicare must provide the full range of Medicare-covered home health services available in a particular geographic area. Medicare beneficiaries who are enrolled with an MCO may elect their hospice benefit from the hospice of their choice. These organizations only pay for services that are pre-approved.