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Home Care vs. Home Health Care: What’s the Difference?

Written by Claire Samuels
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated May 10, 2021

The terms “home care” and “home health care” sound similar, but they provide distinctly different services. Home care offers non-clinical help, such as meal prep and companionship, while home health care — sometimes shortened to “home health” — provides professional medical assistance.

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Both types of care are available to your loved one in the comfort of their home and can help them age safely in place. Learn more about the costs, features, and benefits of home health and home care to determine which is the best fit for you or your aging relative.

What is home health care?

Home health care is clinical, medical supervision provided by a licensed professional. Registered and licensed practical nurses, occupational therapists, and physical therapists can all provide home health care, often through home health agencies or, in some cases, hospice agencies. This type of care is usually prescribed by a doctor as part of a senior health care regimen following hospitalization or injury. It can include the following:

  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Administration of prescription medications or shots
  • Medical tests
  • Monitoring of health status
  • Wound care

Who can benefit from home health care?

Home health care may not be necessary for seniors aging in place without significant medical concerns. It more often benefits elderly adults who require assistance with recent injuries, who are prone to falls, or who have been diagnosed with a chronic condition, like diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  • Seniors recently discharged from rehabilitation, a hospital stay, or a skilled nursing facility
  • Elderly people who need monitoring after a recent medication change
  • Loved ones whose fragile health prevents them from safely traveling to and from doctors’ offices
  • Seniors experiencing an overall decline in function who could benefit from occupational or physical therapy to regain independence

What is home health care’s cost?

The median cost of full-time in-home health care for seniors is $4,481 a month, according to Genworth Financial’s 2020 Cost of Care Survey. This is based on 44 hours of care a week. Home health care costs vary greatly by location, services offered, and the level of care a senior requires. Since home health aides are often licensed nurses and medical professionals, their rates are higher than those of home care aides who don’t offer medical assistance.

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What is home care?

Home care provides compassion and help for seniors who need assistance with daily activities. Levels of care vary by need and can span from weekly meal prep to incontinence help. Home care aides can be hired privately or contracted through agencies. They’re trained to understand the nuances of senior care, but are generally not licensed to provide medical services. Senior home care services include help with many daily needs:

  • Companionship — reading aloud, chatting, and in-home activities
  • Transportation to appointments
  • Assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) like dressing, bathing, and grooming
  • Meal preparation or delivery
  • Medication management and reminders, but not directly administering medications
  • Cleaning and organizing
  • Help writing checks or managing finances

Who can benefit from home care?

Home care can benefit a wide variety of seniors aging in place. Whether your aging loved one needs more social interaction to reduce loneliness and isolation or requires more specialized assistance, a home care aide can provide much-needed help.

  • Seniors who need help with activities of daily living (ADLs), from bathing to using the restroom
  • Elderly people who are still active but require transportation to and from activities and medical appointments
  • Loved ones who would like help with cooking, cleaning, and other household responsibilities
  • Seniors who need companionship or feel isolated at home

What is home care’s cost?

Most home care aides and agencies charge by the hour. Since home care hours are often determined by need, your family’s bill can vary greatly based on the assistance your loved one requires.

The average hourly cost of home care in 2020 was $24 an hour, according to Genworth. However, location, state wage laws, and agency requirements often affect home care costs, so you may pay more or less, depending on where your aging relative lives.

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Combining home care and home health care

Often, families find that a combination of home health and home care is beneficial for their loved one. Health professionals are able to provide medical services, while care aids assist with everyday activities. This holistic approach ensures that seniors’ emotional and medical needs are both met. Review the chart below to better understand how your loved one could benefit from home care vs. home health care and how to combine services.

Service OfferedHome HealthHome Care
Bathing/Dressing AssistanceNoYes
Bathroom NeedsSometimesYes
Cleaning ServicesNoYes
CompanionshipNoYes
Formal Health MonitoringYesNo
InjectionsYesNo
Major Wound CareYesNo
Meal Delivery/PrepNoYes
Medical TestsYesNo
Medication AdministrationYesNo
Medication RemindersYesYes
Pain ManagementYesSometimes
Rehabilitation TherapyYesNo
Skilled NursingYesNo
TransportationNoYes

Paying for home care vs. home health care: What does insurance cover?

Home health care generally falls under the umbrella of medical services, while home care involves daily personal assistance. Insurance tends to cover these types of care accordingly:

  • Medicare and private insurance plans cover home health when prescribed by a physician. Ask your loved one’s doctor about home health if you think it would be beneficial. This service is available to any senior who qualifies for Medicare.
  • Medicaid covers both types of care for income-qualified seniors, though coverage amounts vary by state.
  • Private Pay is common for home care, but is only necessary for home health that hasn’t been ordered by a physician.
  • Long-Term Care Insurance covers home care only if it’s included in your loved one’s existing plan. Check with their insurance agent for specifics.
Payment TypeHome HealthHome Care
Covered by MedicareYesNo
Private Health InsuranceYesNo
Private PayUnusualYes
Long Term Care InsuranceUnusualIf in Policy
Medicaid/Medicaid WaiverYesVaries by state
Meet the Author
Claire Samuels

Claire Samuels is a senior copywriter at A Place for Mom. She’s written or contributed to more than 100 articles about senior living and healthy aging, with a special focus on dementia and memory care. Before writing about seniors, she worked as an account executive for independent and assisted living facilities across the Midwest. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Davidson College, where she focused on literature and media studies.

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