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Q: "I don't understand the difference between "home health care and "home care." People use these terms interchangeably and my family and I are confused."

Shandra Harcarik

A: You are right! These terms are often used interchangeably and mean something very different. This can be confusing when trying to find care for someone who needs help in their home.

Home "health" care requires a physician's order. This is for people who need skilled care in their home from a licensed professional. These services included those of a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and/or social worker.

These services are almost always covered by Medicare and most insurance plans, based on diagnosis and need. You would need to look for an agency that is Medicare-certified to provide these services. The agency will then send out the appropriate, ordered licensed professional to evaluate the client's needs and create a plan of care specific for them. The home health episode will be covered for a designated period of time. The client may also qualify for a home-health aide for bath visits under Medicare and some insurance plans as long as nursing and/or therapy services are being provided. Most people are not aware of this benefit, so always ask.

You can find more information about all of the Medicare-certified agencies in your area and compare their outcomes on the website www.medicare.gov. Also, always remember, you have the right to choose your home health agency.

"Home care" refers to private duty non-medical care such as personal care services. These services are not covered by Medicare or commercial insurances and do not require a physician's order. The care may be needed from one to twenty-four hours in the home and is charged by the hour.

Private pay is the most common form of payment for these services, however, the Veteran's Administration, Long term care insurances, and the Area Agency on Aging (PDA waiver) may also pay for these services.

To Ask the Nurse a question, contact Shandra Harcarik, Director of Marketing and Education, Gallagher Home Health Services, at (412) 722-2522 or sharcarik@gallagherhhs.com. Visit the website www.gallagherhhs.com for more information on these services.

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