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Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

What Caregivers Should Know About Medicare

I am the caregiver for my 81-year-old mother, who recently fell and broke her hip. I have a lot of questions about how original Medicare works and what it covers. Where can I get some help understanding this program?

Having a working knowledge of Medicare can help you take full advantage of the coverage and services it provides to ensure your mom receives the best care possible. Here is what you should know.

Medicare Assistance

A good starting point to get familiar with Medicare is the official "Medicare & You" handbook that overviews the program. It is mailed to all beneficiaries every fall and provides an up-to-date description of all services and benefits. You can also see it online at

If you have a particular question, you can call and visit with a Medicare customer service representative at 800-633-4227. Medicare also works closely with State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) to provide free health insurance counseling. To find a SHIP counselor in your area visit or call 877-839-2675.

Caregivers may also find Medicare's secure website – – especially useful. After setting up a personal account for your mom, you can view the details of her coverage, track recent health care claims and keep up to date on preventive services.

Compare Tools

Medicare can also help you locate the right health care providers for your mother. At you can find and compare doctors, hospitals, home health agencies, dialysis facilities, inpatient rehab facilities, long-term care hospitals and nursing homes in your mom's area.

What Medicare Covers

Medicare can reduce many out-of-pocket medical expenses your mom incurs, but it does not cover everything. Understanding what Medicare covers can save you time and spare you frustration when navigating the caregiving maze. Here are some key points for caregivers:

Medicare covers basic hospital and physician services (which includes telehealth services), home health care and optional prescription drug benefits. To qualify, your mom must be homebound, under a physician's care and in need of part-time skilled nursing care or rehabilitative services, such as physical therapy.

Medicare also helps pay for oxygen, catheters and other medical supplies that doctors prescribe for home use. The same is true for medically necessary equipment, including oxygen machines, wheelchairs and walkers.

In addition, Medicare covers skilled care in a nursing home for limited periods – up to 100 days following hospital stays. It does not cover long-term stays. Patients who need custodial care (room and board) must pay out of pocket unless they are eligible for Medicaid or have private long-term care insurance.

Medicare also pays for hospice care for someone with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less. The hospice benefit also includes brief periods of respite care at a hospice facility, hospital or nursing home to give the patient's caregivers an occasional rest.

Besides long-term nursing home stays, original Medicare typically does not cover regular dental care or dentures, regular eye exams or eyeglasses and hearing exams or hearing aids. Likewise, it does not cover nonemergency ambulance trips unless a doctor certifies they are medically necessary.

To find out what Medicare covers, visit and type in the test, item or service you have questions about, or download the Medicare "What's Covered" application on your mobile device.

Financial Assistance

If your mom lives on a limited income, you should check whether she qualifies for help with prescription drug costs or with other Medicare-related premiums, deductibles and copayments.

For help with prescription drug costs, visit or contact Social Security at 800-772-1213 and ask about the "Extra Help Program." For help with other Medicare costs, go to or call 800-633-4227 and ask about the "Medicare Savings Programs."

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published January 1, 2021

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