Experiencing a health emergency like an injury from a fall or a heart attack typically requires people to be hospitalized. While the need to be in a hospital may only be for a short time, the road to recovery may require additional assistance in the home. The good news is that Medicare can provide home health care services to help you recover.

Home health care is meant to provide health services and equipment to individuals while they are recovering at home. Home health care includes a wide range of health and social services delivered in the home to treat illness or injury. Services covered by Medicare’s home health benefit include intermittent skilled nursing care, skilled therapy services, and care provided by a home health aide.

1. To qualify for home health care, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be considered homebound based on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) criteria,
  • Require skilled care on a part-time or intermittent basis to improve, maintain, prevent, or further slow your health condition,
  • Be under the care of a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, physician’s assistant, or doctor, who completes and documents an in-person visit with you either:
  1. three months before the start of home health care, or
  2. within one month after the home health care benefit has begun.

But what exactly does that mean? Well, let’s say you end up in the hospital after a fall and get surgery on your knee. After spending at least 3 days in the hospital it’s time to get discharged, but you have not completely healed. The discharge documents from your physician will include information about you being homebound and needing short-term skilled care. The documents will also include plan of care that notifies Medicare and health care agencies of the services and equipment you will need while being cared for. Once this happens you are now eligible to receive home health care from a Medicare-approved agency.

2. Medicare only covers care for specific services

If you are eligible for home health care you can receive skilled nursing care and rehabilitative care from approved home health care services. These services include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology services, medical social services, durable medical equipment, medical supplies, and other services provided in your home. Recent changes to the law may allow for the increased ability to utilize telehealth.

3. If you are enrolled in Original Medicare you pay nothing for home health care services

However, you may be responsible for 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for durable medical equipment and the standard Part B deductible applies. Costs and benefits may be different for beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, so check with your plan to find out how they provide Medicare-covered home health benefits.

Ask the home health care agency about what services Medicare will pay for and what is not covered, as some agencies may recommend services not covered by Medicare. Home health agencies must notify you of the cost of services in writing before starting care.

4. Custodial Care (Long-Term Care) is non-skilled personal care

Non-skilled personal care includes activities of daily living (ADLs) like bathing, dressing, eating, chores, and health-related care that most people do on their own, like taking insulin. Agencies that offer these services are referred to as home care agencies, not to be confused with home health care agencies that offer home health care services.

5. Medicare does not cover custodial care or nursing home care

Medicare’s home health care benefit is not a long-term services and supports program, and it does not provide unlimited coverage. If your care includes any of the following services: 24-hour care, meal delivery, homemaker services, and/or personal care Medicare will generally not cover the cost. Medicaid sometimes pays for services to keep seniors in their homes. The services covered and requirements for enrollment vary by each state’s Home and Community Based Services program.

6. Some states offer custodial care programs for older adults

Programs like adult day care, chore assistance, and homemaker services are offered by some state Medicaid programs. Vouchers may also be available for low-income households who qualify.

If you need help locating these programs, we recommend trying BenefitsCheckUp®, a free, online screening tool from NCOA. This tool screens for thousands of money-saving programs, including local respite care, adult day care, and state Medicaid programs. We also recommend contacting your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for free, federally funded Medicare counseling.

7. Home Health Care and Home Care comparison

Even with all this information, differentiating between home care and home health care can be confusing. Below is a chart to help highlight some of the major differences and similarities in services covered, enrollment requirements, and payment options.


  Home Health Care Home Care
Original Medicare approved Yes No
Medicare Advantage approved Yes, may vary depending on insurer No
Medicaid approved Depends on state Depends on state
Covers long term care No Yes, if specified
Skilled nursing Yes No
Rehabilitation therapy Yes No
Meal preparation No Yes
Activities of daily living (bathing, grooming, etc.) No Yes
Requirements for enrollment Yes No, unless enrolling in a Medicaid funded program