Nursing Homes Cost $8,821 a Month. Here’s How to Pay for It in 2021

The challenges that older Americans face during COVID-19 are multi-dimensional. Of course, it starts with the direct concern of COVID-19 itself. 

As the CDC states in its COVID-19 guidance for older adults, “[o]lder adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.”

To make matters more difficult, COVID-19 has made many people less willing to access health care for ordinary ailments. In fact, the risk of COVID-19 has made people more likely to avoid visiting the doctor entirely, which of course raises the risk of serious medical problems due to untreated conditions.

[ See: Health Care Costs Could Increase in 2021. Here’s What to Do ]

This is a double whammy for the elderly, particularly people who may need elderly care. COVID-19 can, in some situations, make those options more critical than ever.

In this article

    How to pay for elderly care during COVID-19

    In 2020, the average monthly cost of 24-hour nursing home care is $7,756 for a semi-private room, $8,821 for a private room and hiring an in-home health aide for 44 hours a week can cost $4,576 a month. How can you pay for that?

    For some, the answer is easy: they’re covered by robust health care plans that either stand alone or are strong supplements to their current Medicare and/or Medicaid coverage, which will cover testing, vaccination and some treatment. Others may have long-term care coverage that will help them should they need long-term care.

    For many others, other options are needed. What options are available for the cost of elderly care for those who don’t have those financial tools available to them?

    Start with the BenefitsCheckUp, provided by the National Council on Aging. It allows anyone to anonymously search for benefits programs for the elderly that may be available in their area, giving you a starting point for finding useful health care resources without providing any personal information.

    Here are some widely available options.

    Medicare

    For most elderly Americans, medical coverage begins with Medicare. Medicare comes in several different flavors — currently Original Medicare Part A and Part B and Medicare Advantage (Part C). Medicare.gov offers a great comparison of Medicare options. Your first step should be to ensure that you’re eligible for Medicare.

    It’s worth noting that Medicare does have serious limitations. For example, Medicare does not provide for long-term care or custodial care. It is a huge help for medical procedures and doctor’s visits, but if you need ongoing, long-term custodial care, you’ll need to consider other tools.

    Medicaid

    Low-income seniors can also enroll in Medicaid, which provides supplemental assistance to what Medicare offers. Medicaid.gov offers a detailed list of what Medicaid must offer under federal law. Some of the important things that Medicaid does cover include:

    • Nursing facility services
    • Home health services
    • Transportation to medical care

    Depending on the state plan, Medicaid can also cover: 

    • Dentures
    • Services for people 65 or older in an institution for mental disease
    • Private duty nursing services 
    • Hospice

    If you are a low-income senior who may be eligible, start at your state’s Medicaid website by choosing the drop-down option for your state on Medicaid.gov’s Resources for States page.

    Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)

    PACE is a program that offers comprehensive medical and social services to certain seniors, particularly for nursing home care. Some of the things that PACE covers include:

    • In-home, hospital and nursing home care
    • Prescription drugs 
    • Preventative care
    • Social services

    If you have Medicaid coverage, you don’t pay a premium for long-term care coverage under PACE. However, if you have Medicare, you will pay a monthly premium for that coverage as well as a premium for Medicare Part D drugs.

    Eligibility varies from state to state, and PACE plans do not exist in all states. Start by finding a PACE plan in your area to find out if you’re eligible and what that specific plan offers.

    State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

    Some states offer a supplemental health insurance assistance program specifically designed to help older citizens of their state to navigate the ins and outs of Medicare and the other options available to them. These programs offer one-on-one counseling to help people figure out how to balance Medicare, Medicaid, PACE and any private insurance options available to them. You can start by checking if SHIP is available in your state.

    [ Next: The Complete Guide to Health Insurance ]

    Nursing home vs. in-home care during COVID-19

    Deciding whether in-home care or nursing home care is the right option for you is tricky at any time, but fraught with even more concern during COVID-19. As AARP notes, there are a lot of concerns about nursing homes during coronavirus, including test shortages, lack of PPE, understaffing and many other issues. Given those concerns Americans have to nursing home care versus in-home care, many are foregoing nursing homes where possible.

    If you’re facing this decision, one thing you should do is make a thorough review of any nursing homes that you may consider to ensure for yourself that it’s safe, as this is a prime consideration in any decision. The National Institute on Aging offers a great guide to choosing a nursing home, including a robust section on evaluating a nursing home, with additional steps to consider during COVID-19. You may also want to consider unbiased rankings of nursing homes near you.

    What about in-home options? These also have special considerations during COVID-19. Is the in-home provider following COVID-19 protocols? AARP offers advice on considering in-home care during COVID-19, including important considerations for staying safe.

    Paying for these options may be difficult, too. The average monthly cost in 2020 for 44 hours a week of a home health aide is $4,576

    Consider the cost of a nursing home during COVID-19 if someone has Alzheimer’s disease and requires around-the-clock care. For a semi-private room in a nursing home facility, that level of care can cost an average of $7,756 a month. 

    Medicare and Medicaid may or may not cover these costs, so it’s important to weigh your options between in-home and nursing home care while considering any existing health concerns. 

    Other financial considerations during COVID-19

    Many people considering elderly care during the coronavirus era may have other financial concerns as well.

    Life insurance

    COVID-19 will not affect your current life insurance. If you already have a life insurance package, you’re fine — whether you get COVID-19 or not, it remains yours. However, getting a new life insurance package may be more challenging, as COVID-19 may be considered a pre-existing condition for some providers.

    Multigenerational living

    Some families may consider multigenerational living as a solution during COVID-19 by having family members of several generations living in one household. If you go this route, be sure to consider changes in homeowners insurance for multigenerational living.

    [ For You: A Guide for Seniors to Age in Place During COVID-19 ]

    Using technology to keep in touch

    One important aspect of caring for older Americans is simply keeping in touch with them so that they don’t become isolated, and technology is extremely helpful with this. Ensuring that an older relative has the tools necessary to easily stay in touch is comforting for both you and for them.

    Most technology options for tablets and devices are fairly affordable, but we gathered a few options that are compatible with Skype or other video call software. 

    • Amazon Echo Show 8: $79
    • Facebook Portal: $179
    • Google Nest Hub Max: $229

    These options aren’t covered under health insurance by any means, but you can bargain hunt for older generations to get cheaper options or opt for a payment plan to fit within your budget. Furthermore, if you’re the child or grandchild of an senior person, pool together your money with siblings and family members to buy them a device so they can connect with everyone.

    The most important aspect, however, is consistence effort. You can have all the tech in the world, but it comes down to making the effort to stay in contact. Make a scheduled reminder for yourself to keep in touch with the people you care about most in your life so that it doesn’t slip your mind.

    We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

    Trent Hamm

    Founder & Columnist

    Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

    Reviewed by

    • Courtney Mihocik
      Courtney Mihocik
      Loans Editor

      Courtney Mihocik is an editor at The Simple Dollar who specializes in personal loans, student loans, auto loans, and debt consolidation loans. She is a former writer and contributing editor to Interest.com, PersonalLoans.org, and elsewhere.