Does Medicare Cover Long-Term Care?

Medicare does not cover the cost of long-term care, also known as custodial care. This includes extended stays at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Medicare may cover some costs at these facilities for 100 days following hospitalization.

Medicare Long-Term Care Coverage

Long-term care is a collection of services that assist people who need help performing activities of daily living, such as walking, eating or bathing.

While care is most often administered at home by unpaid family members, long-term care can also include extended stays at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Medicare does not pay for most long-term care.

For example, Medicare will only help pay for a short stay in a skilled nursing facility following a hospitalization. You must be admitted to a Medicare-certified nursing facility within 30 days of your inpatient hospital stay.

Medicare may also cover costs if you require short-term skilled nursing services, such as physical therapy or speech therapy.

If you meet all conditions and requirements, Original Medicare will pay 100 percent of costs in a skilled nursing facility for 20 days and some costs for 80 days after that.

After 100 days, Medicare will not pay any skilled nursing facility costs.

Many Medicare beneficiaries are unaware of the program’s narrow long-term care coverage.

According to 2019 research from the Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement, 56 percent of middle-income baby boomers falsely believe that Medicare will pay for ongoing long-term care.

You can use Medicare’s Long-Term Care Hospital Compare tool to find and compare long-term care facilities in your area.
Source: U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Alternatives to Medicare for Long-Term Care

Long-term care may be your costliest expense in retirement.

According to a 2019 survey by Genworth Financial, a semi-private room at a nursing home averaged $7,513 a month, or $90,156 a year. A private room ran roughly $102,104 a year.

Several factors influence cost, including location, length of stay and insurance.

Because Medicare long-term care coverage is extremely limited, patients and families must often look elsewhere to find ways to pay for these services.

Alternatives to Cover Long-Term Care Costs
  • Medicaid
  • Veterans Affairs’ benefits
  • Personal savings
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Annuities
  • Reverse mortgages

Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance program for low-income people, pays a bulk of the nation’s nursing home bills.

However, using Medicaid to cover long-term care is often seen as a last resort because applicants must have minimal assets and limited incomes to qualify.

This forces many older Americans to spend nearly everything they have in order to qualify for Medicaid.

Did You Know?
Nearly 70 percent of Americans ages 65 and older will require some type of long-term care during their lifetime.

How to Pay for Long-Term Care

Insurance is one way to protect against the financial drain of long-term care expenses.

Long-term care insurance has been around for years, but many people are hesitant to purchase a policy because they worry their investment will be wasted if they do not use it.

Several insurance companies now offer options to address this concern by combining life insurance with long-term care insurance.

These hybrid or combination policies pay long-term care costs if you need services when you’re alive but convert funds to life insurance money for your beneficiaries when you die.

Purchasing an annuity is another way to fund long-term care costs.

Annuities are contracts with insurance companies that promise to pay you money for a specific number of years — or for the rest of your life.

For example, you can buy a deferred annuity with payouts scheduled to begin in 20 years and earmarked for long-term care.

You may also be able to purchase a long-term care rider, which offers the benefits of higher annuity payouts if you need long-term care in the future.

Finally, a reverse mortgage is another common way to finance long-term care. Reverse mortgages are a specific type of home loan that allow you, the mortgage holder, to receive cash against the value of your house without selling it.

Reverse mortgages are complex and tend to be more expensive than other types of home loans. An approved reverse mortgage counselor or certified financial planner can discuss these important considerations with you and your family.

Last Modified: August 5, 2021

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