Page Reviewed / Updated - November 16, 2010
In simplified terms, being homebound or housebound means an individual is unable to leave their home without difficulty, and due to this difficulty, generally does not leave their home. It is usually due to advanced age, illness, or a disability. Both Medicare and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) use homebound / housebound status as eligibility criteria to receive specific services, such as in-home care or increased pensions.
Medicare more commonly refers to this status as homebound, while the VA more frequently calls it housebound. However, for the sake of this article, the words will be used interchangeably.) Each organization has its own criteria for determining a homebound status, which will be discussed in much greater detail below.
Having a formal designation of homebound determines if an elderly individual will be able to receive certain types of care or financial assistance from Medicare or the VA.
Medicare’s Home Health Services
In order to receive home health services via Medicare, a physician must determine a senior to be homebound. These home health services include periodic skilled nursing services (such as injections, injection instructions, tube feedings, catheter changes, and wound care), physical therapy, as well as necessary medical equipment. Make note, one is able to receive hospice services without a determination of being homebound.
VA Housebound Pension
The VA uses a housebound status as the major determining factor for a veteran (or surviving spouse) to receive the Housebound Pension. This pension is for veterans who have a permanent disability, but the disability does not need to result from their military service, it can be a disability that results from the natural aging process. The pension provides additional monetary compensation for housebound veterans, above and beyond their regular monthly pension.
VA Skilled Home Health Care (SHHC) Services
A senior veteran may receive Skilled Home Health Care Services based on a housebound status. This short-term care program provides an individual help with activities that are associated with daily living, such as grooming, dressing, mobility, meal preparation, and medication management. Case management and nursing services may also be provided.
Medicare and the VA use different criteria when determining if an individual is homebound, as indicated below.
With Medicare, there are two criterions that must be met in order for a senior to be designated as homebound. First, one must be unable to leave their home without assistance, whether that assistance is from another person or from mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair or a walker. Alternatively, the individual’s physician believes the individual’s condition will decline if he or she leaves their place of residence. The second criterion is that it is problematic for one to leave their home, and generally, the individual does not. It is one’s physician who makes the determination if one meets the criterion to be labeled as homebound.
It is important to note that one is still able to leave their house for certain conditions without jeopardizing their homebound status. For instance, one can leave their home to attend church, seek medical attention, go to adult day care, attend a funeral, or go to a family event.
In order for a veteran or their spouse to be considered housebound, one must have a disability that is permanent and be given a 100% disability rating. (The VA rates disabilities by percentages to indicate the seriousness of a veteran’s disability, with 100% being the most severe). The elderly veteran must also be unable, or mostly unable, to leave their home OR have a second disability that is given a 60% disability rating. Make note, the disability does not have to be service related. In most cases, housebound status is determined based on medical records following an examination by a private doctor or nurse practitioner, instead of a medical professional that works for the VA.
The criterion for a veteran to be determined as housebound are pretty clear in regards to the VA; a senior veteran must be permanently disabled and given a disability rating of 100%, in addition to meeting one other requirement, as discussed above. That being said, what qualifies a veteran as 100% permanently disabled? A variety of issues may be cause for qualification and includes mental problems, like anxiety and depression, as well as a number of physical illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, and late stage Parkinson’s disease.
There are also a variety of reasons a senior might receive a homebound status when it comes to Medicare. For instance, a senior who has had a stroke and requires a wheelchair, or who is unable to walk without a walker, may qualify as being homebound. A senile elderly individual who is unable to leave his or her home without help from someone else is another example of someone who may be considered homebound. However, make note, while a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia will not qualify one for homebound status, the symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease might be cause for qualification.