Caring for an aging loved one is a monumental undertaking. Fortunately, there are federal, state and even local government programs that can provide financial assistance, respite care, advocacy and many other forms of support.
Top 8 Government Programs for Seniors and Caregivers
MedicareThere is more to Medicare than just Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). If the person you are caring for is 65 or older and collecting Social Security retirement benefits, it is likely that they receive Medicare Part A for free and their Medicare Part B premiums are automatically deducted from the monthly benefits they receive from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Part D prescription drug coverage is subsidized by Medicare through payments to private insurance companies that then fund part of the cost of prescription drugs. Seniors with low income and limited assets may qualify for a Medicare Savings Program. Depending on the program they are eligible for, your loved one’s state of residence may help pay for Part A and/or Part B premiums as well as coinsurance, deductibles and copayments. Another program called Extra Help is also available to minimize costs associated with Part D prescription drug plans. These options provide substantial cost savings.
Supplemental Security IncomeIf your loved one’s Social Security benefits were earned through lower-paying jobs and these benefits are their only source of income, they may qualify for a larger monthly benefit from the SSA called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The SSI program is operated by the federal government and provides seniors and blind or disabled individuals with monthly payments to supplement their income. SSI is a needs-based program, so applicants must meet certain income and asset requirements to qualify. Eligibility for SSI is usually used as an indicator that individuals also qualify for other needs-based programs and benefits, such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The Administration on Aging (AoA)The AoA administers many national programs and services for elders, including free health insurance counseling, legal assistance, elder abuse prevention and help with long-term care planning. The AoA also oversees a network of community-based organizations called Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) that offer in-person assistance with accessing these programs and services. AAAs are staffed by professionals and volunteers who are knowledgeable about resources for seniors and family caregivers. They can walk you through specific eligibility requirements and even help with preparing applications and gathering supporting documentation for benefits.
Find your local Area Agency on Aging »
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)If your loved one is a military veteran or surviving spouse of a veteran, they may be entitled to several different benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA offers health care services, long-term care services, pensions, disability compensation, burial benefits, and other benefits to eligible veterans and their qualifying family members. While the application and approval processes can be lengthy, the best place to start is locating a veteran’s discharge papers (also known as DD Form 214). This form is used by the VA to determine the nature of a veteran’s discharge or separation from active duty in the armed forces, one of the fundamental eligibility requirements for most VA benefits.
Read: VA Benefits for Veterans and Their Caregivers
The Americans with Disabilities Act National NetworkIf your loved one has a disability, it may be helpful to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals in all aspects of public life, such as employment, state and federal government programs, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications, and commercial facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services has created the ADA National Network to provide information, briefings and free publications on the regulations granting universal access to the disabled.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH)Seniors typically have multiple medical conditions and take several prescription and over-the-counter medications. As a caregiver, it is important to be knowledgeable about your loved one’s health status and their medication regimen. The National Library of Medicine, a part of the NIH, hosts MedlinePlus, a comprehensive online database of information on health conditions, medical tests and every drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition to learning about age-related conditions and healthy living, consumers can use this database to search for information on medications, including active ingredients, uses, dosing recommendations, special precautions, side effects and interactions. MedlinePlus also features detailed information on herbal remedies and dietary supplements.
MedicaidMedicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health coverage to low-income Americans. Adults may qualify for Medicaid if they are disabled or age 65 or older. Unlike Medicare, Medicaid covers various types of long-term care and home- and community-based care services. However, applicants must meet stringent financial requirements to be approved for Medicaid coverage. Each state administers its own Medicaid program according to federal requirements, so the exact eligibility criteria vary. For more general information on the program, visit Medicaid.gov. To find information specific to your state’s Medicaid program, visit your state’s government website.
State Long-Term Care Ombudsman ProgramsAll states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam operate an ombudsman program with the goal of helping long-term care residents and their families understand their legal rights. Each program is headed by a full-time LTC ombudsman who directs a team of staff and volunteers. These individuals visit residents in long-term care settings, investigate and resolve complaints, advocate for quality care, and educate consumers and their families about their rights. You can find contact information for your state and local ombudsman programs at TheConsumerVoice.org/get_help.
How to Access Government Programs for the Elderly
Access to assistance is as close as your computer or smartphone, and, in most cases, you can apply online. Start by visiting the following two websites that can help determine which of the above programs you and your loved one may be eligible for as well as any others that might be unique to your area.
Using these resources, caregivers can gain access to vital information, monetary assistance and services for their aging family members. These programs provide added support that help seniors stay healthy and active longer and reduce caregiver stress.