Acute vs. Long-Term Care

Acute care and long-term care represent two ends of the spectrum in the continuum of care. Acute care is medical care designed to treat and/or cure an acute condition, for example, a heart attack or stroke. Treatment is usually provided by a doctor in a hospital. Long-term care, on the other hand, includes skilled, therapeutic and personal care services and supports that may be needed by a person whose physical and/or mental condition limits their ability to function independently.

As such, there is a big difference between acute care and long-term care in terms of who receives care, where and by whom the care is provided, the care need, the goal of care and how care is paid for.

VariableAcute CareLong-term Care
DemographicAnyonePrimarily the elderly and those with disabilities
ProviderHospitals, out-patient clinics, physician offices, physicians, nurse practitionersSkilled nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, home care, nurses, therapists, paraprofessionals
Care NeedAcute conditions, infections, diseases, accidentsFunctional limitations due to chronic conditions, recovery process or permanent disability
Goal of CareTreatment and cureFunctional improvement through therapy and/or ongoing assistance with functional limitations to achieve the highest quality of life possible
PayerMedical insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans AdministrationPrivate pay, Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care insurance, Veterans Administration, Veteran’s benefits and pensions, some employer-provided medical insurance

Medicare vs. Medicaid Coverage for Long-Term Care

Medicare is medical insurance for those over 65, the blind and disabled. It covers the skilled care and therapy component of long-term care, as well as some personal care on a short term basis. Medicare does not cover ongoing custodial or personal care.

Medicaid is the largest payer of long-term care. It is a needs-based benefit for those who have exhausted their personal resources and meet income, asset and other eligibility requirements.