Avoid This Mistake When Cost-Comparing Home Health Care and Assisted Living

Your parent is living at home with the support of home health care, but the costs are starting to add up. At what point is it actually cheaper to move to assisted living?

It’s a question that many families face.

Here’s where some people go wrong when crunching the numbers. They focus exclusively on care costs when calculating the cost of staying at home.

They might say, “Okay, the cost of having home health care support Mom is $3,000 a month. Whereas the monthly fee for assisted living is more than that. So, staying at home is cheaper.”

What’s the matter with that logic?

It doesn’t factor in living costs.

Consider this: Your parent is paying a certain amount each month to live in their own home. They pay for things like property tax, utilities, home insurance, property maintenance, groceries or eating out, and so on.

In assisted living, many of those costs are built into the monthly fee.

Here’s a more accurate comparison:

Home health care costs + other costs of living at home compared to assisted living costs

And here’s another thing to consider: If they own their own home, selling it will give them money they can use for any number of things, including helping to pay for assisted living costs. Let’s face it. What you’re really interested in is the bottom line. What’s everything going to cost when all is said and done?

Running the numbers

You can use our handy online calculator to quickly figure out the costs for your parent to continue living at home. If they’re currently receiving home health care, you can simply plug in the cost.

But what if they don’t yet have a home health care provider? Well, you can get quotes from various providers. That would likely involve at least a preliminary assessment of your parent’s needs.

A quick way to estimate home health care costs

If you simply want a rough estimate without contacting any home health care providers, you can look at the average home health care costs for your state by using the Genworth 2020 Cost of Care Survey tool.

The tool starts by showing you the national median costs for two types of home health care services.

  • Homemaker services $4,481
  • Home health aide $4,576

Here’s how Genworth defines these services:

  • Homemaker services make it possible for people to live in their own homes or return to their homes by helping them complete household tasks that they can’t manage alone. Homemaker services aides may clean houses, cook meals or run errands.”
  • Home health aides help those who live in their own homes instead of residential care facilities. Home health aides may offer care to people who need more extensive personal care than family or friends are able to or have the time or resources to provide.”

The cost estimate is based on 44 hours of service per week. The tool allows you to adjust the number of hours according to your parent’s needs.

Keep in mind that these are national figures. Care costs can vary greatly from state to state. Fortunately, the tool also allows you to calculate the cost of care for a particular area. Remember. This is just the cost of care for your parent living at home. Don’t forget to add in the other costs of living at home.

Estimating assisted living costs

The Genworth tool also provides a median monthly cost for assisted living. That can provide you with a starting point for comparison, but if you want a better idea of what assisted living will actually cost for your parent, it’s best to contact individual senior living communities directly.

That’s because different communities may offer different amenities and services, and their prices will likely reflect this. For instance, some communities may have a basic care package that’s included in the monthly fee. Additional care may be available for an extra fee.

You’ll want to sort out what’s included and what’s extra to make sure a) your parent is getting all the care and services they need for a reasonable price and b) they’re not paying for things they don’t need.

Questions to ask potential assisted living facilities

Here are some questions you can ask to tease out what is and what isn’t included:

  • What additional services are available if the care or personal needs of my loved one change while living here?
  • What are your monthly fees and what does it cover?
  • How does your meal program work? What’s included and what’s extra?

And here are some questions that don’t relate as much to cost, but you might want to consider asking as well:

  • Why would my loved one feel at home here?
  • Tell me about your programs for residents and their families
  • Is there adequate space for visits with families?
  • How do you communicate with families about a resident’s well-being?
  • Tell me about security features of the property  
  • What are the community reviews?

Other benefits of assisted living

There are other benefits to assisted living beyond help with personal care and access to a meal program. There’s also 24-hour staffing, a range of organized social activities, and the overall sense of belonging to a community.

For more on this topic, check out our handy guide, “Should You Stay or Should You Go? How to Decide Between Home and Senior Living.”

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