How to Pay for Respite Care for Aging Adults: 4 Options Explained

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

The term respite care describes short term care relief for family caregivers who want a rest or need to take time off for personal reasons. Caregiving is stressful. It can last years, and the financial impact alone can be significant. Loss of income from work and paying for care can undermine a caregiver’s financial stability.

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Pre-planning for future caregiving needs is the first step in minimizing the financial consequences of caregiving. Unfortunately, caregivers have no uniform national respite program, so families need to fend for themselves when they need a break. But, even if you haven’t planned for caregiving, you can access respite resources for your loved one. Paying for those respite resources could be tricky, but you can do it with enough information about your options. And we will show you how. 

How Much Does Respite Care for Aging Adults Typically Cost?

Paying for respite care depends entirely on what respite care programs or services you access. Several factors influence a decision about respite care, including your loved one’s medical condition and what you can afford. 

The options narrow for someone who is medically fragile. They may be unable to travel safely or could require such a high level of care that an offsite location is not feasible. The cost of respite care will differ from the typical care options. The costs for each respite care program will vary according to location, availability, and level of care.

In-home care

In-home care has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that your loved one remains home, and scheduling is flexible. The disadvantages are cost and limitations of allowable tasks. In-home care is always private pay except for long-term care insurance and some Medicare Advantage plans. 

The median hourly cost of in-home care is $26.00 an hour. That hourly rate may seem doable, but the price could be high if you add up several hours a day or need round-the-clock care. But, if you could pay a private caregiver for a few hours a day for 2-3 days a week or some other similar schedule, it could be more affordable. Any relief is valuable, and those few hours combined with additional help from family could be enough to give you a break.

Adult day care

Adult daycare programs serve older adults and family caregivers by providing a place for an older adult to go during the day. The advantage of adult day care is twofold. One, the primary caregiver gets a break, and two, the older adult gets stimulation, some medical services, activities, and meals. If your loved one adjusts to adult daycare, the situation is a win-win for everyone. 

Unless your loved one has a long-term care policy that includes adult daycare as a benefit, you can expect to pay a daily median cost of $78.00. Some adult day centers will be more and others less. Many adult day care centers also have flexible scheduling and offer half days. When you compare the cost of adult day care (depending on your individual price), you can see the advantage of adult day care over many hours and days of in-home care.

Assisted living 

Families frequently use assisted living respite to get temporary relief from caregiving duties. Most assisted living communities have one or more rooms dedicated to short-term stays for up to a week.

Most assisted living communities require the same health-related paperwork as if your loved one was moving in as a permanent resident. The rooms are fully furnished, and all additional services and amenities are available. So, in other words, if your loved one needs a high level of care and assisted living can provide it, they will add that to the daily room rate cost.

The daily median cost of care in assisted living is $148.00. Your cost could be much higher depending on the community and the level of care. That daily rate could be worth knowing that your loved one is receiving safe and consistent care.

Hospice 

Under the hospice benefit, Medicare will pay up to 5 days of respite for your loved one. To qualify for hospice respite, the hospice company has to approve the request and arrange for a Medicare contracted facility to take your loved one. Most hospice respite occurs in a free-standing residential hospice facility, a hospital, or a nursing home. Arranging any other type of respite without hospice involvement could compromise your loved one’s hospice benefit.

Common Ways to Pay for Respite Care for Aging Adults

Paying for care, in general, can be a challenge for families. And respite is no different, but at least it is short-term. Meeting with a financial advisor can help clarify your choices, and your loved one can help you identify the best respite options. 

1. VA benefits

The VA can provide respite care services for qualified veterans or their spouses. There are two types: one is home respite care and the other is nursing home respite care. Under the home option, the VA pays for an aide to come to the veteran's home. Or, the VA can pay for the veteran to go to adult daycare. Under the nursing home benefit, the VA pays for the veteran to go to a nursing home while the caregiver takes some time off. This benefit is available 30 days each year.

The other VA benefit is Aid and Attendance, which gives qualified Veterans a monthly cash amount. The money can be used for in-home care or assisted living. The aid and attendance program has strict criteria for participation. 

2. Long-term care insurance

If your loved one has a long-term care policy, now might be the time to access the policy benefits. Many policies have a 90-day waiting period and require that your loved one needs assistance in several activities of daily living.

But someone qualifies for the benefit, they can use the monthly cash benefit to pay for in-home care or assisted living. In addition to the cash benefit, some policies have a respite clause. For example, a policy may pay for a specified number of days per year in adult day care, nursing home, or at home. Review your loved one’s policy to see what additional benefits they are entitled to. 

3. Medicare Advantage plans

Traditional Medicare does not pay for respite or in-home care, but some Medicare Advantage plans offer additional services, including respite. One type of respite care through Medicare Advantage is a short-term stay in a nursing home or an assisted living facility. 

Another option under Medicare Advantage is In-home respite care. A professional caregiver contracted with your Medicare Advantage plan provides some short-term care. Adult daycare is the third respite care option. Each Medicare Advantage plan will be different, so review your policy to see which respite care options are available.

4. Medicaid

Medicaid is a federal and state program for people who have low income and few assets. Medicaid Home and Community based programs allow participants to receive health services in their homes. Your loved one will have to qualify for Medicaid first and then apply to the program they are eligible for. Many Medicaid programs have waiting lists for their services. 

What Are Your Alternatives If You Can’t Afford Respite Care?

If you can’t afford respite services, don’t despair. You may not have considered some creative solutions, but a word of caution: don’t let the challenge of paying for respite care dissuade you from taking the time you need to restore and re-energize. Finding a solution now might lay the groundwork for future respite.

Aging services

Your local or state area agency on aging is a public or private nonprofit agency designated by a state to meet the needs of all older persons at the regional and local levels. Area agencies on aging offer programs such as meals on wheels, senior transportation, and some community-based supports for people who qualify. Some aging services departments have caregiver respite programs you can apply for. You can think of aging services as your one-stop shop for respite and other resource information.

Faith-based organizations

Often faith-based organizations have volunteer respite services for the community they serve. You don’t necessarily have to be a member of the faith to participate. Jewish Family Services and Catholic Community Services are two faith-based organizations to approach regarding respite care services, but there could be others.

Family

Reaching out to other family members to help care for a loved one can be tough. You may not want to bother anyone else because they might have less time than you or feel guilty imposing on them. Some employers offer Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits that your family member might be able to use for a few days without risking their job.

Remember that you are asking for some time-limited respite relief and reassure the family member that the situation is temporary. Often when other family members haven’t been directly involved in care, they are anxious about it. Provide specific care instructions and, if necessary, involve more than one person but organize a schedule before you take respite. You will want to feel confident in the care other family members provide. 

Access other assets

Accessing other assets is appropriate with the involvement of a financial and estate planning professional. Tapping into other assets like home equity, savings and retirement can assist with paying for respite care without compromising financial stability. 

Caregiving should be everyone’s responsibility. Limited and fair assistance from other family members shouldn’t place too much of a burden on anyone. As a family, you can also discuss ways each of you can pitch in financially to support the primary caregiver to get some time off. 

Paying for Respite Care

Think of respite care as healthcare for you, the caregiver. You may feel you don’t have the energy to explore paying for respite options, but your effort will be well worth it. Your emotional and physical health is vital to being a good caregiver and a healthy person.

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