Long Term Care: Federal Government Programs

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Federal agencies — primarily the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), but also other agencies such as the Administration for Community Living, the Administration on Aging, and the Social Security Administration — are a good place to begin. (Medicaid is a federal-state program, so it is important to look at both the federal rules and your state's program.)

  • Medicare: Even though Medicare doesn't cover long-term care, it is an important resource for the medical care that people receiving long-term care services and supports need. Some of the short-term benefits, for example, for home healthcare or rehabilitation services, may fill gaps while more viable long-term solutions are arranged.

    CMS, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, oversees Medicare. Its website is the primary resource for beneficiaries and families.

    If you are enrolled in Medicare, you receive by mail a handbook entitled “Medicare and You,” which is updated every year. Although the cover says it is “an official U.S. government handbook,” the inside cover warns that it isn't a legal document.

    For legal guidance, you need to go to the relevant statutes, regulations, and rulings, which can be hard to find and tough reading for a non-lawyer. The handbook is also available online and in an e-book format. You can also speak to a Medicare agent by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

    If you use a smart phone, use the numbers not the letters because the “E” will not connect.

  • Medicaid: Medicaid is the federal-state program that provides health care and long-term care for people with low incomes and assets or very high medical costs. Eligibility and services vary by state. Much of the information on its website is designed for regulators and policymakers, although it includes links to state sites, which have more specific information for residents.

  • Administration for Community Living: In 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created an umbrella organization, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), to bring together various federal agency resources to coordinate policy and reduce fragmentation in policies on disability and aging.

  • Administration on Aging: The Administration on Aging (AoA) is part of the ACL. AoA supports what is often called the Aging Network of agencies and professionals. It was created in 1965 with the passage of the Older Americans Act and provides support services, nutrition services, preventive health services, the National Family Caregiver Support Program, elder-rights services, and services to Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and Native Americans.

  • Eldercare Locator: The Eldercare Locator, a free service of AoA, is a basic go-to site for locating resources in your community. You can access an online chat forum, or you can call 1-800-677-1116 for information.

  • Area Agencies on Aging: The more than 600 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) provide information and referrals to services such as adult day care and senior-center programs in their region. Some state associations of AAAs also have maps of their locations within the state.

  • Social Security Administration: The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers Social Security benefits, which may be an important part of the financial side of your long-term care plan. The agency's website at www.ssa.gov lets you check or estimate your retirement benefits online and get other information.

    All Social Security benefits must now be paid by direct deposit, so if you or your parent or other relative is receiving Social Security benefits, it should be by direct deposit. AARP’s Social Security For Dummies (by Jonathan Peterson; Wiley) provides more detail on all aspects of Social Security.

  • USA.gov: This site is the main federal government portal. It has a section on senior citizens’ resources, which has links to a variety of federal agencies and a separate listing of many state resources, including lesser-known ones such as “Farmers Markets near You,” prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • National Disability Rights Network: Every state and territory has one protection and advocacy agency (P&A) responsible for protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities.

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