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Some comfort for caregivers

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“I feel trapped.”  That’s how Christian Spratt described her financial and emotional state in a recent Marketplace Money interview.  Spratt lives in Knoxville, Tenn., where she takes care of her aging and ailing grandparents. The responsibility of being their sole caregiver has drained her emotionally and financially.

“What little income I do get does come from my grandparents and since my savings is depleted, when this is over — whenever that is, five minutes from now, five years — there’s nothing left. I will actually have to start my life over from scratch at that point,” Spratt says.

Lots of listener response landed in Marketplace Money’s mailbox following the broadcast of that interview.  Other caregivers wanted to offer Spratt their empathy. Some listeners offered suggestions on accessing more health care resources. 

In the interview, there was an incorrect statement about Medicare. It’s Medicaid where income eligibility matters.  We wanted to correct that.  So we called Katherine Pearson, a professor of law at the Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law.  She explains the distinction between the two programs:

“Medicare is federally directed health insurance for older adults. Generally speaking, it covers hospital care and doctors’ visits but it also provides important transition services between hospital and home and it can cover up to 100 days of skilled care plus some home health care and hospice. There are no asset or income restrictions. It often involves premiums, deductibles and co-pays,” says Pearson. “The separate program, Medicaid, is a means-tested benefits program.  So, we’re going to be looking at income and resources or assets.  Medicaid does have less-strict medical necessity rules and it is probably the major payer for long-term care services and therefore, people do need to be aware of both programs when we’re talking about family care.”

Pearson says Medicaid is a joint federal and state program.   So the laws surrounding Medicaid can vary from state-to-state.  These differences can make the Medicaid system challenging to navigate. For help, Pearson suggests starting with Triple A — no, not the auto club.

“What’s a Triple A office? That’s an Area Agency on Aging.  Sometimes it’s called Community or County Aging Services, but it’s a local government office and they’re often going to be a great source of information about programs available in your state as well as actual physical resources, such as home care and support services in your county,” says Pearson.

Some of the other programs Pearson suggests for caregivers and elderly Americans are:

Legal Aid: Community legal services  for low-income individuals and families; some have specialists in Medicaid benefits.

-Elder Law Specialists: people above the poverty line can contact these certified, experienced attorneys with expertise in legal issues affecting the elderly. A good resource to find one of these specialists is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

Elder Care Locator: A full-service resource stop including tools to assist caregivers and their loved ones with making informed choices about health care. Their toll-free number is 1-800-677-1116.

If you’re looking for more help, check out these resources from

Find Help Providing Care

Government Benefits

Legal Matters and End-of-Life Issues

Long-Distance Caregiving

Support for Caregivers

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