The coalition has been accused of "ducking" crucial elderly care funding reforms after ministers delayed taking a final decision on capping care costs but indicated the limit could be set as high as £100,000.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley confirmed plans to give state loans to pensioners moving into residential care so they do not have to sell their property immediately - a measure branded a "death tax" by charities. But he said no decision would be made on capping the sky-high bills pensioners in care homes currently face until the next spending review.
The Conservative minister revealed he was also considering an opt-in scheme that would allow wealthier pensioners to be protected by a cap on future costs - but only if they paid into some form of insurance scheme.
Last year a review chaired by economist Andrew Dilnot recommended setting a limit between £25,000 and £50,000 to stop pensioners being forced to sell their homes to cover the costs.
Department of Health analysis showed the Government has looked at a number of options, including a £75,000 and a £100,000 limit. The threshold would be applied to individuals and, combined with a separate £10,000 cap on bills for accommodation and living costs accrued by pensioners in homes, could leave couples paying out well over £200,000.
Mr Lansley said the Government was looking at the "whole range" of options and insisted Mr Dilnot had also raised the possibility of a higher cap.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "The truth is that the Government is ducking one of the biggest issues of our time. They are adopting a pick-and-mix approach to the Dilnot package which was conceived as a coherent and complementary whole."
Under the deferred payment system, which is being introduced across England from 2015, people will be able to borrow money from councils at nominal interest rates, with the sum being paid back after their death. It is intended to help around 40,000 people each year who are forced to sell their homes to cover care costs. Some local authorities already operate similar arrangements, but provision varies widely across the country. Ministers insisted that cash-strapped councils would be given the "necessary" support to cover the costs of the changes.
But Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: "Whichever way you look at it, it's a death tax." Ros Altmann, director-general of Saga, said people "will still lose everything" under the plans.
Mr Dilnot said in an "ideal world" he would have preferred to see more progress made but insisted he was not despairing "because I think we are moving forward". He told the BBC: "I am pleased that they recognise that we came up with the right way forward. Of course we would love them to have agreed to fund it right now. We hope very much they will do so over the next year. We still have time. The legislation was anyway going to take much of the next year. The Government still has the opportunity to insert clauses into its draft Bill that would allow immediate implementation of any decisions that are made in the Comprehensive Spending Review."