Financial Guide
Phase 1: Oh! I’m a caregiver! - The early days
Written by Suzanne Boutilier

When we first become family caregivers, there are several steps we can take to prepare to manage the financial strain it puts on our savings. We can start by wrapping our heads around the potential expenses we may encounter. On average, family caregivers spend $7,200/year of our own money to provide care to an aging loved one. This can include prescription and medical costs, durable medical equipment, daily supplies, home renovations, and more.

Understanding Care Costs

Medical costs can include prescriptions, treatments, therapies, medical appointments, and travel to and from health care services.

Durable medical equipment can include wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers, oxygen equipment, commode chairs, lifts, bed alarms, etc. Basically, medical equipment that’s likely to last for at least three years.

Disposable caregiving supplies can include bed pads, incontinence supplies, bandages, gloves, etc.

Home modifications for safety and accessibility can include adding ramps, installing bathroom grab bars, widening doorways for wheelchair passage, and stair lift installation.

Professional care services, if our loved one or we can afford them, can include skilled nurses, therapists, and home health aides, as well as in-home caregivers who are considered “unskilled” workers—worst definition ever. It can also include assisted living, memory care, or nursing home care.

Understanding Coverage

Medical cost coverage

Our first order of business is to review our family member’s health insurance policy to understand what medical costs it covers and what, if any, portion of a medical expense will have to be paid out of pocket. Medicare will cover many but not all medical costs.

Durable medical equipment (DME) coverage

According to the website, traditional Medicare Part B covers costs of the following DME if our family member’s Medicare-enrolled doctor or other health care provider prescribes it for use in their home. Medicare Advantage plans cover the same DME including:

  • Blood sugar meters
  • Blood sugar test strips
  • Canes
  • Commode chairs
  • Continuous passive motion machines, devices & accessories
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines
  • Crutches
  • Home infusion services
  • Hospital beds
  • Infusion pumps & supplies
  • Lancet devices & lancets
  • Nebulizers & nebulizer medications
  • Oxygen equipment & accessories
  • Patient lifts
  • Pressure-reducing support surfaces
  • Suction pumps
  • Traction equipment
  • Walkers
  • Wheelchairs & scooters

Disposable caregiving supplies coverage

Traditional Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of incontinence supplies, but it does cover the cost of intravenous supplies, gauze, and catheters.

Home modification coverage

In some cases, traditional Medicare coverage may subsidize the costs of some home modifications. The best option is to ask our family member’s doctor to prescribe an in-home safety assessment. The person doing the assessment—most likely an occupational therapist—will come to the home to conduct an assessment of functional abilities and needs, as well as the safety of the home environment. They can then recommend the relevant home modifications. Medicare will cover the cost of the evaluation itself. And if the home modifications align with the care plan, they may subsidize the recommended modifications. Some Medicare Advantage plans include reimbursements for home modifications.

Professional care services coverage

Medicare covers the cost of home health care provided by skilled healthcare providers such as a nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech therapist. A doctor or other health care provider must order the care after a face-to-face visit and certify the need. And a Medicare-certified home health agency must provide it.

Medicare does not cover the cost of an in-home caregiver—someone who helps with activities of daily living (ADLs) including meal prep, eating, dressing, toileting, hygiene, transferring, light housekeeping, and errands. Professional in-home caregivers, working 40 hours a week, cost $65,000, on average. The average cost of room and board at an assisted living facility in 2024 runs about $59,000 annually. This doesn’t include additional fees for actual assistance. A memory care facility runs about $74,000 annually. The average nursing home care cost is $95,000/year for a shared room and $108,000/year for a single.

Cost of professional care services

What if there’s a long term care insurance (LTCI) policy? If LTCI is in place and our loved one needs assistance with two or more ADLs, they may be able to start claiming their LTCI benefit. This benefit will cover some or all of the cost of professional care for a predetermined length of time—usually 1-6 years. Depending on the policy, that care may be covered if it’s delivered in a care facility or at home. And some policies even pay a family member to provide that care. It’s important to review the policy with the insurance provider before arranging for care, so we know exactly what is and isn’t covered. More details about getting paid as a family caregiver through a long term care insurance policy.

Currently, only about 3% of Americans own a LTCI policy. This is one of the reasons 53 million of us are providing unpaid care for our own aging loved ones.

At RubyWell, we’re building tools to help family caregivers save, find, and earn money while providing care. Right now, you can access coupons for up to 80% of prescription prices with our prescription savings tool. And we’re currently building a comprehensive and easy-to-use MA benefits navigator, where you’ll be able to discover unused Medicare Advantage Supplemental Benefits. If you’d like to be among the first to hear about future products, join our waiting list

Continue reading:

Phase 2: In the trenches - The daily challenges of providing care

Phase 3: End of life - The transition out of caregiving

Phase 4: Post-caregiving - Tying up financial affairs after death

Phase 5: Retirement Reset - Planning For Our Future Care

Go Back:

Introduction: What to Expect on the Financial Journey Through Family Caregiving

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Phase 2: In the trenches - The daily challenges of providing and affording care
Written by Suzanne Boutilier
Suzanne Boutilier has been working and writing in the caregiving space since 2021. She also helps her sisters care for their aging father.
Reviewed by Elyse Dasko
Elyse Dasko is a leading communications strategist in age tech, caregiving and the longevity market.