Once you hit eligibility for Medicare at age 65, you may think you’ve got it made and you don’t have to worry about saving for future long-term care costs. However, that’s not the case.

First, in 2019, the average monthly cost for skilled nursing home care in New Jersey was more than $10,000. And Medicare does not cover those costs fully.

What Medicare covers

Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, hospice care, home health services and short-term stays at a skilled nursing facility (with certain restrictions). It will not pay for any nursing home residential costs or custodial care services. Custodial care services include needed assistance with bathing, toileting or assistance with meals.

What Medicaid covers

Medicaid requires you meet both federal and individual state income guidelines. It is generally for lower-income people. Even if you become eligible for Medicaid (often after you’ve depleted any significant savings), that doesn’t automatically guarantee you are eligible for nursing home care costs. When you apply, and the state accepts to your application, then you’ll know more how much of nursing care costs you’ll have to cover.

One misconception, though, is that being on Medicaid reduces your quality of care at a nursing home facility. Nursing home facilities give the same care to all patients, regardless of if they receive Medicaid assistance or not.

Long-term care insurance

Another option to fund long-term care is purchasing a long-term care insurance plan. As with any insurance plan that covers health costs, you can’t purchase one if you already have a debilitating condition, such as Alzheimer’s. Many people purchase long-term care plans in their 50s or 60s, well before they need to use them.

Getting an elder law attorney’s help

Wading through all the options when it comes to health care cost planning and asset preservation is complex. Working with an experienced elder law attorney can help, as they specialize in handling the legal issues that affect seniors the most. They can help with estate planning, including advising you on whether setting up an irrevocable trust might be a good way to shield your assets from being spent on nursing care costs.