A Look at Medicaid
For an increasing number of families, long-term care planning is becoming a topic discussed with an unfortunate frequency. When a once-healthy and vibrant person needs full-time care—either suddenly or through the ravages of a progressive illness—staggering pressures can bear down on that person, his or her immediate family, and close friends.
One of the first and most natural questions is that of cost: Where will the money come from to allow the loved one to receive the care he or she needs? Lifetime savings can be depleted in a relatively short period of time without proper planning.
At some point, the discussion of funding care will no doubt turn to Medicaid, a difficult topic to deliberate when combined with the stress of caring for a loved one and a topic many otherwise well-informed individuals misunderstand.
What Is Medicaid?
Medicaid is essentially a state and federally funded program that is administered by both levels of the government. First and foremost, it is an entitlement program, differing from Medicare in that it is a needs-based welfare program. Eligibility for Medicaid is said to be both “categorical” and financial. In other words, eligibility first depends on a person being over age 65 or having a physical or mental incapacity that causes them to need care. Financial criteria based on both income and assets are then assessed.
What Are “Countable” Assets?
While dollar amounts may vary somewhat between states, individuals typically may have no more than $2,000 of “countable” assets and a low maximum monthly income that varies depending on the state in which the individual resides. The asset test causes the most confusion; all assets are countable unless specifically exempt. This includes savings and all real estate other than a personal residence.
The shocking news for many couples is that their joint resources are considered together in determining whether one spouse meets the Medicaid resource limits. The excess above these limits must be spent down in order for the individual to qualify for Medicaid.
As one might expect, a number of techniques have been devised that can help protect assets from having to be “spent down” to pay for care. These may include the use of a gifting program and a “Medicaid trust,” the conversion of assets to income, and increasing the level of exempt assets. Caution is the watchword; misuse of any of these techniques can make a difficult situation even worse.
One option is to have planned ahead for the possibility of needing long-term care, either in a nursing home or at home, by obtaining insurance that will help protect you or your loved ones. Professional assistance with planning is a necessity, according to your personal needs.
The information contained in this article is for general use and while we believe all in formation to be reliable and accurate, it is important to remember individual situations may be entirely different. Therefore, information should be relied upon only when coordinated with professional tax and financial advice. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a representation by us or a solicitation of the purchase or sale of any insurance or securities products and services. Written and published by Liberty Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2013 Liberty Publishing, Inc. LTCMED00-04
The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any Federal tax penalties. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.
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