published Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Consumer Watch: Paying for senior care


by Ellen Phillips

Finding good in-home care for senior family members is inordinately expensive.

The norm, if personal care such as toileting and bathing is required, is $18-$25 per hour with a four-hour minimum. (In our area it’s $10-$18 daily.) Round-the-clock live-in care runs about three times the price of a typical assisted living facility, which can eat up any savings or long-term care insurance before your loved one dies.

So what choices are available? Here are some options to explore.

• State assistance is sometimes available for low-income seniors who want to stay in their homes. Contact your local Medicaid office (TennCare in Tennessee) to discover what’s in your state.

• Tax breaks are often the best method, assuming you pay more than half your elderly relative’s yearly expenses and the person’s gross yearly income does not exceed $3,950, not counting Social Security payments.

Check out IRS Publication 501, “Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information” either online or by calling for a copy at 800-829-3676. Also check IRS Publication 502, “Medical and Dental Expenses.”

• Veterans’ benefits, which I discovered for my own mother, who needed 24-hour in-home care following my daddy’s death, is a great boon for the Greatest Generation and their spouses. Actually, the VA has two programs, the first being the Veteran-Directed Home and Community Based Service program. Providing a flexible stipend, this program helps to pay family members for caregiving. Check out VA.gov/geriatrics.

The second program is the one we used for my mom. This Aid and Attendance benefit is only for wartime vets and their spouses and helps to pay for in-home caregiving (can be used as payment for family members, too), as well as for assisted living and nursing homes.

However, the person for whom the application is submitted must need help with daily functions, including bathing, dressing and the like. Income is a factor, too — the applicant’s annual income can’t exceed $13,563 as a surviving spouse, $21,107 for a single veteran and $25,022 for a married couple. (These amounts are after medical expenses, thank goodness.)

Lastly, the person’s assets must be less than $80,000, not counting a home and car. Check out the same website or contact your regional VA office (Chattanooga 423-893-6500; North Georgia 404-321-.6111; North Alabama 256-539-5775.)

• To check for other assistance, including local and state programs, go to BenefitsCheckup.org, a free, web-based service that helps low-income seniors and families identify federal, state and private benefits. These latter programs help with a myriad of blessings, such as prescription costs, health care and utilities.

Ellen Phillips is the author of two consumer-oriented books. Email her at consumer watch@timesfreepress.com.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.

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