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Medicare is a federal program that pays for health care for people over age 65 and for people under age 65 with disabilities. Many people assume Medicare will pay for their long-term care expenses, but in fact, Medicare only covers a small portion of the country's long-term care bill. It covers the cost of some skilled care in approved nursing homes or in your home, but only in certain situations. For example, for nursing facility care Medicare covers on average 20 days and never more than 100 days. 

Medicaid, a state and federal assistance program for eligible individuals with low-incomes, covers close to half of the nation's long-term care bill, but will pay only after someone has spent down their assets.  To receive Medicaid, you must meet state and federal guidelines for income and assets. Many people must pay for long-term care out of their own pockets until their assets shrink enough for them to become eligible for Medicaid. This is called "spending down" your assets.