Dark Side of Medicaid Means You Need Estate Planning

A woman in Massachusetts, age 62, is living in her family’s home on borrowed time. Her late father did all the right things: saving to buy a home and then buying a life insurance policy to satisfy the mortgage on his passing, with the expectation that he had secured the family’s future. However, as reported in the article “Medicaid’s Dark Secret” in The Atlantic, after the father died and the mother needed to live in a nursing home as a consequence of Alzheimer’s, the legacy began to unravel.

When the mother was placed into a nursing home, a guardian of the state signed her up for the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth. Just weeks after entering the nursing home, her daughter received a notice that MassHealth had placed a lien on the house. The daughter called MassHealth; her mother had been a longtime employee of Boston Public Schools and there were alternatives. She wanted her mother taken off Medicaid. The person she spoke to at MassHealth said not to worry. If her mother came out of the nursing home, the lien would be removed, and her mother could continue to receive benefits from Medicaid.

The daughter and her husband moved to Massachusetts, took their mother out of the nursing home and cared for her full-time. They also fixed up the dilapidated house, treating it as if it was theirs because that’s what they believed it to be. To do so, they cashed in all of their savings bonds, about $100,000. They refinished the house and paid off the two mortgages their mother had on the house.

Her husband then began to show signs of dementia. Now, the daughter spent her days and nights caring for both her mother and her husband.

After her mother died, she received a letter from the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees MassHealth, notifying her that the state was seeking reimbursement from the estate for $198,660. She had six months to pay the debt in full, and after that time, she would be accruing interest at 12%. The state could legally force her to sell the house and take its care of proceeds to settle the debt. At this time, her husband had entered the final stages of Alzheimer’s.

Despite all her calls to officials, none of whom would help, and her own research that found that there were in fact exceptions for adult-child caregivers, the state rejected all of her requests for help. She had no assets, little income, and no hope.

State recovery for Medicaid expenditures became mandatory, as part of a deficit-reduction law signed by President Bill Clinton. Many states resisted instituting the process, even going to court to defend their citizens. The federal government took a position that federal funds for Medicaid would be cut if the states did not comply. There are even some states who took a harder line, even allowing pre-death liens, taking interest on past-due debts or limiting the number of hardship waivers. The law gave the states the option to expand recovery efforts, including medical expenses. Many did, collecting for every doctor’s visit, drug, and surgery covered by Medicaid.

Few people are aware of estate recovery. It’s disclosed in the Medicaid enrollment forms but buried in the fine print. It’s hard for a non-lawyer to know what it means. When it makes headlines, people are shocked and dismayed. During the rollout of the Obama administration’s Medicaid expansion, more people became aware of the fine print. At least three states passed legislation to scale back recovery policies after public outcry.

The Medicaid Recovery program is a strong reason for families to meet with an elder law attorney and make a plan. Assets can be placed in irrevocable trusts, or deeds can be transferred to family members. There are many strategies to protect families from estate recovery. This issue should be on the front burner of anyone who owns a home or other assets, who may need to apply for Medicaid at some point in the future. Avoiding probate is one part of estate planning, avoiding Medicaid recovery is another.

Since the laws are state-specific, consult an elder law attorney in your state.

Reference: The Atlantic (October 2019) “Medicaid’s Dark Secret” 

Who Will Pay for Your Nursing Home Care?

It’s hard for everyone in the family, when a beloved parent or grandparent must enter a nursing home, because they can no longer live on their own. Often the result of a physical or mental decline, the difficulty is compounded by worries about how to pay for the care, reports The Ledger in the article “The Law: Are you eligible for Medicaid nursing home coverage?”

Once health insurance coverage ends, the cost of care becomes enormous, with the monthly cost for a private-pay resident at nursing homes often exceeding $10,000 a month. What usually happens? Residents can’t afford the care and only have two options: qualify for Medicaid Nursing Home coverage, or sell every asset they can, impoverish the spouse, and ask adult children or other family members for help. Most people contact an elder law attorney and explore becoming eligible for Medicaid Nursing Home coverage.

Let’s use the state of Florida for an example of how to qualify for this coverage. A person must pass a three-part test that examines their assets, income, and health, at the time the application is filed.

Income. As of Jan. 1, 2019, you could have a maximum of $2,313 per month in income (before deductions) to be eligible for Medicaid Nursing Home coverage. If your income was above that number, then legal planning is necessary to create a qualified income trust. Timing is extremely important, because if the trust is not set up correctly or in a timely fashion, you will not qualify for Medicaid.

There is a common mistake made about a spouse’s income being too high. It’s happily not true: a spouse’s income can be unlimited, and it does not impact a Medicaid applicant’s eligibility for benefits.

Assets. As of Jan. 1, 2019, you may have a maximum of $2,000 of countable assets and be eligible for Medicaid Nursing Home coverage. If the assets are above that threshold, there are a number of acceptable legal options to help the individual become eligible. There are two types of asset classes to consider when applying for Medicaid Nursing Home coverage: countable and non-countable.

Some non-countable assets are as follows: In Florida, homestead property up to $585,000 in value, one automobile, a prepaid burial contract and term life insurance without a cash value. Countable assets include bank accounts, investment accounts, life insurance with cash value, CDs and annuities.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, a spouse may have a maximum of $126,420 of countable assets, without having an impact on their spouses’ Medicaid eligibility.

An elder law attorney should be consulted to help the family understand the income and asset tests and create a strategy to help the individual qualify, if they anticipate needing Medicaid Nursing Home coverage. It’s best to do this well in advance, if possible. In addition, California has it’s own rules, so it is important to make sure you understand the rules in your specific state.

Reference: The Ledger (Jan. 9, 2019) “The Law: Are you eligible for Medicaid nursing home coverage?”