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Ask the expert: Will Medicare supplement last long?

The problem: I just turned 65, and I'm purchasing a Medicare supplement plan to pay for the 20 percent of expenses not covered by Medicare. Medicare will pay for long-term nursing coverage, but how long will my Medicare supplement pay for 20 percent of long-term-care costs?

The expert: Henry Montag, financial planner and long-term-care specialist, Syosset.

The rules: Medicare may pay for all long-term-care costs at home or in a skilled nursing facility for the first 20 days. Between 21 and 100 days, Medicare may pay for everything except a $133-a-day patient co-payment.

Medicare supplements pay for the 20 percent of long-term-care costs not covered by Medicare, plus other charges that could amount to more than $50,000. But if Medicare doesn't cover a particular service, neither will a Medicare supplement.

The strategy: The basic features and benefits of the 12 "standardized" supplement plans, A to J, are the same -- but costs can vary by as much as 25 percent. Medicare Supplement plans C to J also pay the $133-a-day co-pay for skilled care during days 21 to 100.

After day 100, neither Medicare nor Medicare supplements will pay for skilled coverage. Benefits of supplement plans are essentially the same, so choose the plan with the lowest premium; and make sure your Medicare Part D prescription drug plan is based on your particular drug needs.

The results: Even though Medicare supplement plans won't pay for long-term care beyond 100 days, they help by covering 20 percent of short-term costs not covered by Medicare.

To pay for the majority of long-term-care costs not covered by Medicare or supplements, look into a long-term-care insurance contract.

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