Don’t File For Medicaid Too Soon!

Most people assume that they will age in place at home and never need long-term care, but statistics show that that is not the case.  Medicare may be available to pay for a limited period of care under limited circumstances, but if an individual does not have long-term care insurance, nursing home care can cost more than $12,000 per month in New Jersey.  And that is only the average monthly cost of care; many facilities charge a higher rate.  That translates to at least $144,000, which is an awful lot of money to pay out-of-pocket.  That is why many seniors who can no longer remain at home turn to Medicaid, which is a joint federal and state public benefits program, to help fund their care in a nursing home or an assisted living facility.

As part of the process of transitioning from hospital care to long-term care, you will probably be asked whether you have filed a Medicaid application. This is a routine part of the long-term care admissions process.  It is very important to avoid filing for Medicaid before it is needed, for at least two reasons. 

You cannot give away your assets and go directly on Medicaid.  Generally, any gifts made during the lookback period and not fully repaid, will be penalized. while there are a few exceptions, most uncompensated gifts made during the five year Medicaid lookback period will likely result in a Medicaid penalty period, which is the denial of payment through Medicaid for care in a nursing home or an assisted living facility for a period of time corresponding to the total of all the gifts made during the five year Medicaid lookback period.  However, Medicaid generally cannot take into account gifts made before the lookback period began. So if there is going to be gifting in large amounts, it is best for the gifts to be made before the beginning of the Medicaid lookback period. 

How do you know when the five year Medicaid lookback period is?  Actually, the term “five year” Medicaid lookback can be misleading.  Filing the first Medicaid application triggers the Medicaid lookback, which is a period of time running retroactively from the date of filing of the first Medicaid application.  For example, if Eric Early files a Medicaid application on June 1, 2021, and this is his first Medicaid application, then the lookback period will be from June 1, 2016 to June 1, 2021 (five years) and potentially continuing into the future. 

However, there are circumstances when the Medicaid lookback period can extend beyond five years.  In Eric’s case, if he withdraws his first Medicaid application and does not file another Medicaid application until January 1, 2022, the lookback period for his second Medicaid application will still run from June 1, 2016 through to June 1, 2021, but will continue thereafter until the date of filing of the second Medicaid application on January 1, 2022.  So if Eric (or his wife, if he is married) made large gifts in 2016, those gifts will be considered on his 2022 Medicaid application and will probably result in a gifting penalty which Eric could have avoided had he simply waited to file the Medicaid application.

If Eric is married, the first Medicaid application sets the “snapshot.” Medicaid looks at the assets of the husband, the wife and the assets in their joint names, totals the assets and that total is the snapshot.  The amount of the snapshot limits the amount the healthy spouse can keep.  You only get one Medicaid snapshot, so it is very important to get the highest snapshot possible.  Here is an example showing what can happen if you don’t do proper planning before filing a Medicaid application.  

For instance, if Jim was hospitalized in 2017, and the hospital social worker filed a Medicaid application for Jim thinking Jim might have to go into a nursing home, but it turns out that Jim was actually able to return to the home after all.  Jim’s Medicaid snapshot is permanently set in 2017.  His snapshot is set in stone and it is never going to change.  Suppose in 2017, Jim and his wife own a home and a joint checking account with $100,000 in 2017, the home is exempt, but the checking account is not. Jim’s snapshot is $100,000 based on the checking account balance. Jim can keep no more than $2,000 and his wife can keep $50,000 without additional planning or legal advocacy and representation. 

Suppose Jim never completed his Medicaid application in 2017 and his wife cares for him at home for another year and in 2018, re-files for Medicaid for Jim.  In 2018, she also sells the house which was jointly owned with Jim, for the sum of $150,000. If the deed to the house was left in Jim’s name, in 2018, Jim will be disqualified for Medicaid due to being over the $2,000 Medicaid resource limit, because he is entitled to half the house sale proceeds. Now Jim has to spend down an additional $75,000 that could have been saved, had the 2017 Medicaid application not been filed and had Jim and his wife consulted with an elder care attorney.  If you have questions about a Medicaid application, please feel free to contact me to discuss your unique situation.  

Questions? Let Jane know.

Getting a Spousal Waiver for Medicaid Isn’t as Easy as You May Think in New Jersey 

This blog post is intended to help educate your family regarding the limited instances in which a spousal waiver may be available and help guide you through the tedious process of obtaining one in a suitable case. 

The Managed Long Term Services and Supports (MLTSS) Medicaid Program offers valuable benefits, which can provide for long term services and supports in the home, in an assisted living setting or in a nursing home.  However, federal Medicaid law and policy requires the states to evaluate all of the resources available to the Medicaid applicant during the five years immediately preceding the date of filing of the Medicaid application.  This requirement can make it very difficult to obtain a MLTSS approval, particularly if the Medicaid applicant has been separated from a spouse, has a obtained a divorce from bed and board, or has been divorced in the past five years.

Medicaid law and policy provides for Medicaid eligibility as a last resort, requiring the applicant to spend down any excess resources available over the $2,000 countable asset limit.  Under New Jersey common law, spouses can be held liable for necessary expenses (i.e., the cost of medical care) of their spouse and if their assets are in excess of the maximum community spouse reserve allowance (currently set at $130,380), even if the Medicaid applicant has less than $2,000, his or her Medicaid eligibility can be jeopardized by the funds in the name of the healthy spouse. 

Consequently, in determining eligibility for Medicaid, the County Welfare Office (CWO) will ask an applicant’s marital status, and will consider the applicant and his or her spouse legally married until the entry of a final judgment of divorce.  If the CWO determines that you are still married (which can happen even if you have been separated for years or have a divorce from bed and board), it will typically take a “what’s your’s is mine” approach in determining Medicaid eligibility.  This policy is typically enforced by requiring the Medicaid application to provide the spouse or former spouse’s social security number, if the Medicaid applicant has been married at any point during the five year Medicaid lookback period.  The social security number may be used to conduct an asset search, which will probably enable the CWO to identify and consider the current assets of the healthy current or former spouse.   This verification process places the Medicaid applicant in a Catch-22, because banking privacy laws block access to the healthy spouse’s statements, and the healthy spouse is unlikely to spend down assets under his or her sole control for the care of the sick former partner. 

What is spousal refusal? In some other states, especially New York, the strategy of “spousal refusal” is commonly used.  Under this strategy, the healthy spouse refuses to pay the nursing home bills of the spouse applying for Medicaid.  In response, the CWO in “spousal refusal” states evaluates Medicaid eligibility on the basis of the sick spouse’s own assets and income.  This result is referred to as a spousal waiver

New Jersey’s Strict Policy Regarding Spousal Waivers.  For years, the Garden State had a policy against awarding spousal waivers, in all but the most extreme cases, such was where spouses had lived separate and apart for many years.   As a result, spouse waivers were a rarity, making it best to obtain a final judgment of divorce and then wait more than five years to file a Medicaid application. 

How I was able to obtain spousal waiver for one of my recent clients:

In a nut shell, New Jersey was refusing to recognize federal law which provided for spousal refusal. Other states, including NY, do recognize spousal refusal. A little over a year prior to this case, another attorney’s application for a spousal waiver was denied by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, which prompted the case to be taken to the appellate division and the policy against spousal refusal/spousal waivers was overturned. Par for the course, New Jersey was very reluctant to grant the applications.

In my case, the spouses were still married.  The sick spouse was well-educated, extremely bright and conversant. However, their marriage was so difficult that the healthy spouse obtained a domestic violence restraining order against the other spouse, who nine years later became my client.  From that date forward, the two spouses lived separate and apart.  Eventually, one of the spouses needed long term care, and the spousal waiver was obtained largely on the basis of the restraining order.  It was critical to obtain all of that documentation.  Having the spousal waiver meant that the sick spouse was able to get the skilled nursing care needed, without the cooperation of the healthy spouse in the Medicaid application process.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Returning From a Nursing Home to the Home

Senior woman sitting on the wheelchair aloneWhat are the options available to a long-term care resident who wants to return home? Consider using the Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) centered planning rules to help the resident transition back into the community. The care plan can be written in a manner to facilitate the resident’s discharge to the community.  If the individual experiences delay on the part of the Managed Care Organization (MCO) in updating the planning, the individual has a right to a service plan at her request and then annually, or upon a change in condition. Should the individual encounter delays by the MCO’s or if the individuals requested by the resident fail or decline to attend important meetings, one solution may be to involve an Omsbudsman and/or the Managed Long Term Services and Supports (MLTSS) offices, which can enforce a service plan. Generally, the initial meeting should be used to generate a list of action items, including the identification of the Medicare cutoff date and the filing of a MLTSS Medicaid application, obtaining therapies to strengthen the individual for her return to the community. A second meeting may be necessary to draft the plan. Any plan adopted must differentiate between paid and unpaid services to the individual. For instance, if a grandchild is not willing to provide free care and services on a Saturday evening, this should be stated in the plan.

Under the HCBS person-centered planning rules, the MCO must hold a care conference at the time and place selected by the resident.  A care conference is a meeting held by social worker, nurse and other long term care professionals to discuss the best care plan for the resident. The care needs and preferences of the resident are discussed and a written plan of care is documented. The care plan must reflect the goals and objectives for care. For instance, if the resident who is unable to move without assistance, needs to be provided with an air mattress and needs to be turned every two hours to prevent bedsores, this should be stated in the care plan. The cultural affinities of the resident may also be stated in the care plan.

The resident is entitled to have a representative in the care planning process. This can, but does not need to be, his or her financial power of attorney. The resident should not wait for the providers to initiate the process. The MCO must provide the resident with enough information so that he or she can make an informed decision.  If the resident is being discharged back into the community, and will require care 24/7, the post-discharge plan of care must provide whether any unpaid services is going to be performed on a volunteer versus paid basis. The MCO cannot require family members or friends who are not willing to commit to providing free care on a continuing basis to provide the care without compensation.  If various therapies will be needed to strengthen the individual so that she may return to the community, a physician’s order for skilled therapy should be incorporated into the care plan.

The written service plan prepared and implemented through the MCO must spell out how the individual will transition from care in a facility to care in the community and should identify specific goals and services. What funding is available to facilitate an individual’s transition back to the community?  Under the post-eligibility treatment of income rules found at 42 C.F.R. § 435.72, the individual may keep all of her income up to a limit of $2,005.00 per month for up to six months, which can be used to pay rent for an apartment in the community.

The discharge service plan should be prepared taking into consideration the unique abilities and preferences of the disabled and whatever decision –making capacity the soon-to-be discharged resident has retained.  Where the resident is unable to make and implement care-related decisions independently, one possibility is to empower the resident by involving him or her in a collaborative, or supportive decision making (SDM), process.  In this model, the resident awaiting discharge helps define the post-charge plan of care through the assistance of “supporters,” who can help the resident plan the he or she will receive in the community. The SDM decision-making model works best when the “supporters” remain available and cooperative in assisting with the implementation of the decision selected by the disabled or incompetent individual. SDM can be incorporated into the in the discharge planning process for an individual with limited or diminishing capacity. If this is not feasible, where there is not already a power of attorney, alternatives may include obtaining a limited guardianship order (as opposed to a plenary guardianship order) and using the limited guardianship process to define and constrain the authority of the facility’s representative in the discharge process, so that the discharge plan optimally furthers the best interests of the resident returning to the community. Finally, the resident department from a nursing home has a right to seek a Fair Hearing upon transfer or discharge and the service plan itself should incorporate appeal/Fair Hearing rights incorporate within the plan.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

 

 

What is a Medicaid Penalty Period?

medicaid money.jpg

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides funding for long-term care in a nursing home, an assisted living facility, an adult medical day care program or at home. As a means-tested public benefit program, there are strict asset and income requirements. A single individual who wishes to qualify for Medicaid can have no more than $2,000 in countable assets in his or her name and if both members of a married couple seek Medicaid, they can have no more than $3,000 in assets in either or both of their names. There are somewhat higher limits, where one member of a married or a civil union couple will remain in the community independently and the other member will apply for Medicaid.

Generally speaking, an individual cannot give away his or her money and immediately qualify for Medicaid without being subject to a Medicaid penalty period. What does that mean? A penalty period is a period of time during which Medicaid will not pay for the care of the applicant, as a consequence of gifting during the five years immediately prior to the date of filing of the Medicaid application.

“Gifting” for Medicaid may not always be obvious.  Unverified withdrawals from a joint bank account by a child for cash payments of the parent’s expenses may be penalized as gifts. This happened in E.S. v. D.M.A.H.S. and Bergen County Board of Social Services, (Final Agency Decision, N.J. OAL Docket No. HMA 9477-2014, December 11, 2014).

What can you do if you are preparing to file a Medicaid application and the applicant has already given away more than $1,000 during the past five years?  Having the right documentation in hand is very important. Collect and keep financial statements, receipts, notes in checkbook registers and calendars to substantiate cash transactions.  If cash was paid for utility bills, medications, or for groceries, do you have a receipt or a prescription log from a pharmacy? Was a store loyalty card used? If there was gambling, are there statements available from the casino, to substantiate the amounts and dates of the losses?

Documenting that the uncompensated transfers were made exclusively for a purpose other than expediting Medicaid eligibility can also be an option. This can work when the client was living actively in the community at the time of the transfer. See Estate of M.M. v. DMAHS and Union County Division of Social Services, (Final Agency Decision, NJ OAL Docket No. HMA 13911-08, May 27, 2009) (reversing the imposition of any Medicaid transfer penalty for the transfer of $25,000 to a daughter by the Medicaid applicant, when she was living independently at home prior to traumatic onset of disability).

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

 

Can A Computer Deny My Medicaid Application?

Jane Fearn-Zimmer take on the role of artificial intelligence when establishing medicaid eligibility In the information age, computer programs are increasingly relied upon to streamline and facilitate important decisions. A number of states require online applications for Medicaid.  In New Jersey and other states, Medicaid caseworkers have access to Social Security databases and even monthly bank balances, which are otherwise protected under bank secrecy laws.  Bank accounts in addition to those listed by the applicant on the Medicaid application can be identified with computer matching data. The computerized process is unquestionably far more efficient than the old-school method, which involved a lot of early mornings and late nights, during which the attorney responsible for filing the Medicaid application would manually review every transaction listed on every page of up to five years of bank statements and then compare available withdrawal and deposit slips with all of the contemporaneous deposits and withdrawals for multiple accounts, in effort to “verify” that there were no other unknown accounts throwing off income.  In these situations, a computer program which can scan the bank statements and identify unverified deposits is a godsend. However, two recent Medicaid cases from opposite regions of the United States recently prompted me to ponder whether there should be limits on the use of computer programs in determining or terminating Medicaid eligibility.

Earlier this month, a federal district court Medicaid case focused on the use, by the Arizona Medicaid agency, of the Health-e-Arizona Plus computer program, in processing welfare benefit applications.  Darjee v. Betlach, No. CV-16-00489-TUC-RM (DTF) (Dist. Ariz., September 5, 2018) was brought on behalf of multiple Medicaid enrollees, who argued that the computer programs placed them at risk of undue delays in the proper processing of their applications, in violation of the federal Medicaid Act.

Apparently, once their important information was entered into the Health-e Arizona Plus program, the information was accessible only within the Medicaid application it was entered on, and the software program did not import the missing information into a subsequent Medicaid application for the same individual. The result was that information entered on earlier Medicaid applications was not considered on subsequent ones, resulting in inadvertent decreases in benefit entitlements.  A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of those Medicaid enrollees, whose welfare benefits were improperly reduced by Health-e-Arizona program.  Their benefits, however, were later restored. Plaintiffs alleged ongoing and systemic improper Medicaid benefit reductions in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the federal Medicaid Act, based on the use of the computer program.

As the Darjee case shows, even computer programs have their limits. Computers do not have empathy, do not care about fairness, will not always identify additional information needed to determine Medicaid eligibility, and will certainly not go the extra mile to obtain the necessary documents for the applicant.

Especially in New Jersey, where Medicaid eligibility denials for “failure to verify” are common, this can be problematic.  In A.F. v. D.M.A.H.S, No. A-2163-16T1 (N.J. Super., App.Div., July 23, 2018), the Morris County Board of Social Services terminated the Medicaid benefits previously authorized to a quadriplegic of many years, who was completely dependent on the personal care financed by the terminated Medicaid benefit. In an Orwellian twist (which you knew was coming), the reason cited for the termination was the alleged failure to verify two life insurance policies, neither of which was owned by A.F. and as to which no further details were revealed.

Because A.F. held no incidents of ownership in the policies, A.F. could have not verified the policies on a timely filed Medicaid eligibility redetermination.  Although the policy was ultimately revealed on Fair Hearing to be a term life insurance policy with no cash surrender value, the agency refused to waive a few weeks’ delay to re-instate benefits for A.F., who was a severely disabled individual.  The administrative law judge re-instated A.F.’s Medicaid eligibility on Fair Hearing, but the state Medicaid agency director reversed this decision, forcing A.F.’s attorney to challenge the decision of the agency director in the Appellate Division.  Fortunately, A.F. prevailed in the Appellate Division, but justice delayed can be justice denied.

My take-away from these decisions is that while artificial intelligence can be helpful, it remains critical to enlist the assistance of a seasoned Medicaid attorney to timely identify, gather and organize all of the financial documents needed to establish Medicaid eligibility.  While a computer program can definitely expedite a complex eligibility determination process easier, there is no substitute for the human touch in the Medicaid application process.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.