The phone call can come at any hour. Your elderly parent has fallen ill and needs your help. If you haven’t gotten the call yet, chances are you will. About 70 percent of our parents will require some kind of personal care during their old age.  

The challenges of being a caregiver can become overwhelming. A working knowledge of Medicare can help you keep your balance and ensure that your parent or loved one receives the appropriate care.

GET THE HANDBOOK The official, annual “Medicare and You” handbook provides an up-to-date-description of services and benefits. It’s on Medicare’s website, www.medicare.gov.  

PICK UP THE PHONE Call a Medicare rep at (800) 633-4227. Medicare works with states to provide free health insurance counseling. In Texas, call (800) 252-9240.

OPEN AN ACCOUNT Set up a secure, personal account for your parent on www.mymedicare.gov. Then you can view details of their coverage, track health care claims and see what services your parent qualifies for.

FIND PROVIDERS The “Compare” web pages at www.medicare.gov are the place to search for a nursing home, hospital, home health agency, dialysis facility or physician that fits your parent’s needs.

WHAT IS/ISN'T COVERED Don't assume Medicare covers everything. Here are some key points you'll need to know:

• Medicare covers home health care for those who are homebound, under a physician’s care and in need part-time skilled nursing care or services like physical therapy.

  • Medicare helps pay for oxygen, catheters and other medical supplies prescribed for home use, as well as medically necessary equipment like wheelchairs.             

• Medicare covers skilled care in a nursing home for limited periods following hospital stays. It doesn’t cover long-term stays.

• Medicare pays for hospice care for someone with a terminal illness whose doctor expects will live six months or less.

• Medicare typically doesn’t cover regular dental care or dentures, eye exams or eyeglasses, and regular hearing exams and hearing aids.

Bob Moos is the Southwest public affairs officer for the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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