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Online Medicare tool helps you inspect potential nursing homes

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NEW YORK (9/18/12)--Medicare has revamped its online tool to help you inspect, compare, and get guidance when choosing a nursing home for your loved one (The New York Times Sept. 6).

The new, unbiased, user-friendly version of Nursing Home Compare became available in July. The tool, part of Medicare.gov, provides full text reports from nursing home inspectors. Visit Medicare.gov and search for "nursing home compare." Type in your ZIP code and click "Show Nursing Homes" to see a table of all facilities that are certified to participate in Medicare or Medicaid within a radius of your choice--between one and 100 miles.

A star rating system lets you quickly compare distance, overall ratings, health inspections, staffing and quality ratings among the facilities in your area. You can limit your parameters in one or more ways, for example, by searching for nursing homes that are within a continuing-care retirement community. Click the check boxes for as many as three facilities at a time to compare them side by side.

Click on the name of any facility and get additional information such as the number of certified beds. The site is easy to navigate in order to obtain full reports about health inspections, complaints, staffing, penalties, quality measures and so forth.

Nursing Home Compare is a helpful tool to carefully consider and share with your doctor or other health-care providers. More important: Once you've selected the nursing homes you want to consider, visit each to ask questions, talk with residents and staff  (not just the marketing department), observe how staff interacts with residents, and inspect the latest resident and staff survey results.

Keep up with Medicaid proposed changes requirements

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RICHMOND, Va. (9/18/12)--Medicare has drawn a lot of attention in recent political campaigns, but if you're one of millions of seniors who fear long-term care needs will outlast resources, pay close attention to the details about Medicaid as well (Richmond Times-Dispatch Sept. 9).

Although the eligibility requirements to get Medicaid coverage for nursing-home care vary by state, knowing what it takes to qualify in general today will help you shed clarity on proposed and ongoing changes in the program:

  • Most states require that you have no more than about $2,000 in assets such as cash, savings, investments, or other financial resources that can be turned into cash. This does not include your home--if, in most states, it's valued at less than $525,000. Nor does it include your personal possessions and household goods, one vehicle, prepaid funeral plans, and a small amount of life insurance.
  • If, after your nursing home stay, you can't return to your home, Medicaid can take the proceeds of your house to help reimburse nursing home costs unless your spouse or other dependent relative lives in the home.
  • Once you qualify, you must turn over to Medicaid almost all sources of income, such as Social Security and pension checks, to pay for your care.
  • Just in case you wonder about giving away assets to qualify faster, Medicaid officials will look at your financial records for the past five years to find suspicious asset transfers.
  • If you enter a nursing home and your spouse remains at home, Medicaid has special rules allowing your healthy spouse to keep half of your joint assets up to about $114,000. That amount varies state by state. The healthy spouse also may keep the house, furniture, household goods, and one automobile, as well as a portion of your joint monthly income.
Call your local Medicaid office (call 800-633-4227 for local contact information) or contact a local State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselor (shiptalk.org or 800-677-1116) for eligibility details.