Taking on the role of caregiver for an aging, disabled or seriously ill loved one can be emotionally challenging - and financially baffling. You want to ensure your loved one receives the best medical care available, yet hold down expenses at the same time. And if the person you care for has Medicare, you'll want to make sure you know how to best use it to help with medical expenses.
You can start by learning the basics. Ask Medicare, a service created by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at www.medicare.gov/caregivers offers plenty of tips for the nation's 66 million caregivers. The site features practical information such as enrolling in Medicare, choosing a prescription drug plan, finding state and local caregiving resources, how to get access to in-home services, and more.
Ask Medicare offers a handy primer on Medicare benefits:
* Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) is for inpatient care in hospitals, including room costs and meals. Skilled nursing facilities, hospice and some home health care are also covered under Part A.
* Medicare Part B (medical insurance) is for ambulance services, doctor's services, outpatient care and some home health care. Also covered are tests, shots and services to help maintain your health, including pap tests, flu shots and various cancer screenings.
* Medicare Part C (private Medicare Advantage HMO or PPO plans) covers Part A, Part B, and other services. Some Part C Medicare Advantage plans also cover prescription drugs.
* Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) helps pay for brand-name and generic prescriptions.
Ask Medicare can also direct you to supplemental programs, including:
* Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) help pay Medicare expenses and, in some cases, deductibles and coinsurance for those who qualify and are available in all states. Go to www.medicare.gov/caregivers and click on "Caregiver Topics," then "Support for Caregivers," and "Financial Help for Caregivers" to learn more.
* State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) offer free health insurance counseling. To find the SHIP office in your area, visit www.cms.gov/ContactCMS for useful phone numbers and websites .
* Other state and federal programs that can cover additional needs. Many people qualify for support from Social Security, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and in-home services pharmacy programs. The National Council on the Aging's website helps Americans determine their eligibility for a wide range of support programs. Go to www.benefitscheckup.org.
"Signing your loved one up for the Medicare program that best fits her needs is one of the best things you can do as a caregiver," says Susie Butler, acting deputy director, Partner Relations Group, Office of Public Engagement, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "The Ask Medicare site has information specifically for caregivers from Medicare billing questions to savings programs or help paying out-of-pocket health care costs."