Nursing home care can be one of the biggest expenses of retirement. Yet few people plan for it.If you’re 65, you have just about a 50-50 chance of entering a nursing home at some point. The average cost of a private room now exceeds $75,000 per year, and the average length of stay is almost 2 ½ years. That adds up to more than $185,000.One reason people don’t give much thought to the high cost of long-term care is that they figure they won’t have to pay for it. If and when the time comes, they tell themselves, Medicare will pick up most of the tab, the same as it does for hospital stays and doctor visits.But that’s not the case. It can be a real eye-opener to discover that Medicare typically doesn’t pay for long-term “custodial care” – the kind of personal care that helps you with such day-to-day tasks as getting in and out of bed, bathing, dressing and eating. Medicare does cover some skilled nursing or rehabilitative care if a physician orders it after a hospital stay of at least three days. You pay nothing during the first 20 days of your care and then part of the cost for the next 80 days. After 100 days, you’re responsible for all bills.About a third of nursing home residents cover their expenses out of their own pockets. The high cost of such care, however, can quickly exhaust your life savings. Many people go through their nest eggs after just six months. They then turn to Medicaid for support.Medicaid is usually seen as the state and federal safety net that provides health care coverage to the poor. But it also pays for the long-term care of millions of older and disabled nursing home residents after they have impoverished themselves.Medicaid’s eligibility rules vary from state to state. Broadly speaking, you can keep no more than a home, your personal belongings, a car and a small amount of savings (often no more than $2,000). Also, you can have only meager income (usually just hundreds of dollars per month). A word of caution: You can’t give away assets or sell them for less than market value to qualify for Medicaid. The state will look at your financial records for the past five years to check for any improper transfers. If it finds one, your eligibility will be delayed.After you die, Medicaid also has the right to seek reimbursement from your estate for what it has spent on your long-term care.To find out more about how to pay for nursing home care, visit with a counselor from your state’s Health Insurance Assistance Program. In Texas, the number is 1-800-252-9240.ng-term care.To find out more about how to pay for nursing home care, visit with a counselor from your state’s Health Insurance Assistance Program. In Texas, the number is 1-800-252-9240.