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Your guide to having a home health aide
Learn how to schedule in-home visits, what to expect and how to make the most of your care.
Everyone needs a little extra help sometimes. That’s especially true if you’re dealing with a serious medical condition or recovering from a procedure. For example, maybe you’re finding it hard to manage your medications or personal care. Or perhaps standing for long periods of time to cook a healthy meal or take care of necessities around the house is simply too much right now.
If that sounds familiar, an extra set of hands might be just what the doctor ordered — and that’s where a home health aide can help. A home health aide is someone who can help you with non-skilled care in the comfort of your own home. In other words, they can help you with day-to-day living activities. But not with services a health care worker like a nurse or physical therapist offers.
Best of all, a home health aide may be covered by your plan, provided you have a doctor or hospital order and plan of care. Here’s what you need to know.
Who’s eligible for a home health aide
You may be able to get a temporary home health aide if you meet all the following qualifications:1
- You’ve just been discharged from the hospital and need care for that specific condition at home.
- You are homebound. That means you are unable to leave home without a major effort that requires help from another person or a device like a wheelchair or a walker.
- You also require skilled care like nursing, or physical, occupational or speech therapy.
- You require care for less than eight hours a day and fewer than seven days each week. If you need more than that, you may be recommended to a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
Home health aides through Medicare are approved for only up to 21 days. If you need longer-term care, then you may be eligible for a home health aide through your state via a Medicaid waiver, says Nicole Wolf, RN, manager of Clinical Health Services at Aetna®. Your hospital, doctor or insurance case manager can help you find out if you qualify.
If you’re an Aetna D-SNP member and think you might benefit from a home health aide, call your care team. They can answer your questions and help you find out if you qualify for home health assistance.
What to expect during your in-home visits
Once your doctor or your hospital refers you for home health services, the agency will visit you at home for an evaluation, usually within 48 hours, says Wolf. The agency will then work with you and your doctor to create a plan of care. The plan lists any services you need, such as “skilled” nursing, physical, occupational or speech therapy, as well as a home health aide. Skilled care is the type a non-medical person can’t do, such as giving drugs intravenously (through the veins), some injections or tube feedings, or teaching a patient about different prescription medications.2
In general, you can expect Medicare to pay for 20 hours of home health care a week, says Miriam Zucker, LMSW, an elder care consultant in New Rochelle, New York. (Skilled care is not counted as part of those 20 hours.) Zucker explains that a home health aide can do the following:3
- Assist you with all your activities of daily living. They can help you take a bath, dress, eat, go to the bathroom, move from one room to another and prepare meals.
- Check vital signs like your blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels.
- Monitor how much you eat, drink and go to the bathroom.
- Remind you to take your medication.
- Check your home to make sure it’s safe.
- Light housekeeping, such as laundry, washing dishes and vacuuming.
- Arrange transportation to and from your doctor’s office for you.
- Depending on your state, they may provide some basic health-related services such as checking your pulse, temperature and breathing rate, caring for skin and helping with braces and artificial limbs.
- Run errands for groceries and to pick up medications or mail.
It’s also important to know your home health aide will be supervised by medical practitioners — typically nurses — who manage and watch over your care. And because home health aides aren't skilled nurses or therapists, there are some things they can’t do. Zucker says they can't:
- Give you medications.
- Drive you places.
- Perform skilled nursing care or occupational or physical therapy.
Aetna® D-SNP members who have questions about their medications can call their care team. They can help you get the answers you need.
What to look for in a home health aide
You’re allowed to be picky when it comes to your home health aide. After all, you’ll spend a lot of time with them. And they will attend to your most intimate needs. When you first meet your aide, look for the following characteristics:1
- They are polite and treat you and your family with respect.
- They explain your plan of care to you and keep you informed of changes.
- They check your physical condition at each visit and keep tabs on how you feel emotionally.
- They do a once-over of your home to make sure you’re safe.
- The agency itself explains to you what to do if you have a problem with the care you get from your aide.
What you should know about your rights
If you qualify for a home health aide, you have some control over the process, says Wolf. You are able to:
- Pick the home health agency you work with.
You can choose an agency from a list of Medicare-certified agencies in your area. All the agencies on the list are certified to ensure they meet certain federal health and safety requirements.
You can also look up an agency on the Medicare website to find its quality rating. The rating shows how that home health agency compares to others on different performance measures. For example, how fast they begin a patient’s care, or how often a patient gets better at doing their own daily activities.
Your choice should be honored by the doctor or hospital that referred you. Keep in mind that the agency you want may not always be available. 1
- Switch agencies
If you’re not happy with the home health care agency you have, you can switch at any time. But keep in mind that Medicare will pay for you to get care from only one home health agency at a time, says Zucker. Let your doctor know you want to make a change so that you can get a referral to a new agency. You should also tell both the agency you’re leaving and the new agency that you’ve made a change.1
If you don’t like your home health aide, you can also request a new one. “Most agencies are very responsive. They are monitored through regular surveys by the respective state,” explains Zucker.
- File a complaint
If you’re not happy with the care you have gotten and you feel like the home health agency doesn’t listen to you, you can call one of the following: 1
- Your state home health hotline. Your home health agency should have given you this number when you began home health services.
- The Beneficiary and Family Centered Care Quality Improvement Organization (BFCC-QIO) in your state. To get the phone number for your BFCC-QIO, visit Medicare.gov/contacts. You can also call 1-800-MEDICARE or ask your care team.
Have questions about your benefits? If you’re an Aetna® D-SNP member, member services can help you find the answers and navigate your plan.
1. Department of Health and Human Services. Medicare and home health care. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Accessed June 29, 2021.
2. Department of Health and Human Services. What’s a home health care plan? U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Accessed June 29, 2021.
3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What home health aides and personal care aides do. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Accessed June 29, 2021.