MONEY MATTERS > More on Money Matters > MM 6
By Paul A. Pouliot
Healthcare in Retirement: What health care benefits are available in retirement? We already covered Medicare and Medigap.
In general, Medicaid provides medical assistance to aged, disabled, or blind individuals, or to needy, dependent children who could not otherwise afford the necessary medical care. Medicaid pays for a number of medical costs, including hospital bills, physician services, home health care, and long-term nursing home care. Each state administers its own Medicaid programs based on broad federal guidelines and regulations. Within these guidelines, each state performs the following: (1) determines its own eligibility requirements; (2) prescribes the amount, duration, and types of services; (3) chooses the rate of reimbursement for services; and (4) oversees its own program.
Applying for benefits
To apply for Medicaid, you must use a written application on a form prescribed by your state and signed under penalties of perjury. Give the application to your state Medicaid office. Typically, you will need to provide proof of age, marital status, residence, and citizenship, along with your Social Security number, verification of receipt of government benefits, and verification of your income and assets. A responsible individual can complete the application on behalf of an incompetent or incapacitated individual.
To qualify for Medicaid, you must meet two basic eligibility requirements. First, you must be considered categorically needy because of blindness, disability, old age, or by virtue of being the parent of a minor child. Next, you must be financially needy, which is determined by income and asset limitation tests. States have much discretion in determining which groups their Medicaid programs will cover, but as participants in Medicaid, they must provide coverage for all residents who are considered categorically needy.
Caution: State and federal rules regarding Medicaid eligibility change frequently.
Transfer of assets
Because Medicaid eligibility is based on your income and other resources, state Medicaid authorities are interested in knowing whether you have tried to transfer assets out of your name in order to qualify for Medicaid. When you apply for Medicaid, the state has the right to examine your finances and those of your spouse as far back as 60 months before the date you applied for Medicaid. Only certain transfers are prohibited. Fair market transactions will typically be considered legitimate, but if you transfer assets for less than fair market value around the time you apply for Medicaid, the state will presume that the transfer was made solely to help you qualify for Medicaid.
Planning goals and strategies
As mentioned earlier, the state has the right to look into your financial transactions to determine whether you have transferred assets solely to qualify for Medicaid. However, the state may count only the income and assets that are legally available to you for paying your bills. Consequently, several methods have been developed to help you shelter your assets from the state and facilitate Medicaid qualification. Proper planning can help you to qualify for Medicaid, shelter “countable” assets, preserve assets (including the family home) for loved ones, and protect the healthy spouse (if any).
Medicaid qualifying trusts
To qualify for Medicaid, both your income and the value of your other assets must fall below certain limits (which vary from state to state). A trust helps you to qualify for Medicaid because it can shelter your income and assets, making them unavailable to you. The state Medicaid authorities cannot consider assets that are truly inaccessible to the Medicaid applicant. Therefore, anything that stays in an irrevocable trust will lie outside of your financial picture for Medicaid eligibility purposes. If you are looking for a strategy to shelter your resources, one of the following may be appropriate: (1) an irrevocable income-only trust, (2) an irrevocable trust in which the creator of the trust is not a beneficiary, (3) a Miller trust, or (4) a special needs trust.
Protection of principal residence
In certain cases, the state may be entitled to seek reimbursement for Medicaid payments by forcing the sale of your principal residence if you are a Medicaid recipient. Medicaid planning tools have been devised to protect your home, but their effectiveness varies. Therefore, it is important to weigh the costs and benefits of each device carefully. If you are looking for a strategy to preserve your home for loved ones, one of the following four methods may be appropriate: (1) an outright transfer or gift of the home, (2) a transfer subject to life estate, (3) a transfer subject to special power of appointment, or (4) a transfer in trust.
Medicaid and long-term care insurance
Long-term care (LTC) insurance can be useful as part of your Medicaid planning strategy. Your LTC policy can subsidize your nursing home bills during the Medicaid ineligibility period caused by your transfer of assets to third parties. Thus, it may be possible for you to give your assets away to loved ones, have the security of paid nursing home bills during the ineligibility period, and qualify for Medicaid when the LTC policy runs out.
Medicaid liens and estate recoveries
Federal law requires states to seek reimbursement from Medicaid recipients for Medicaid payments made on their behalf. Cost-recovery actions against the assets of Medicaid recipients may come in two forms: (1) real or personal property liens and (2) recovery from decedents’ estates. A Medicaid lien makes it impossible for you to sell or refinance your house without the state’s knowledge and ability to collect what it is owed. As for recovery from decedents’ estates, states also can seek reimbursement from your probate estate after you die. States have the option to expand the definition of estate to include all nonprobate assets as well.
Divorce and Medicaid
From a purely financial perspective, divorce can be a practical move and may actually be used as a Medicaid planning tool. When a spouse enters a nursing home and applies for Medicaid, the couple’s assets must be pooled together and totaled to determine what portion the healthy spouse may keep. After this Spousal Resource Allowance has been determined, the Medicaid applicant must transfer assets representing the amount of the allowance to the healthy spouse. The remaining assets must be spent on the institutionalized partner’s medical care. A divorce court order can supersede the normal Spousal Resource Allowance rules prescribed under state Medicaid regulations. You should consult your legal advisor for further information.
For more information: Contact: Paul A. Pouliot & Associates; Paul A. Pouliot, Senior Financial Advisor, 116 South River Rd, Coldstream Park, Bldg E, Bedford NH 03110. PH: (603) 296-0030 or Toll Free: (888) 810-8590. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.ameripriseadvisors.com/paul.a.pouliot
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