Florida and Arizona are the latest states to request a waiver from the requirement that states provide three months of retroactive Medicaid coverage to eligible Medicaid recipients. Whether Alabama plans to follow suite is unknown to the public at this time, but this is a time when shrinking budgets prepare us to anticipate the worse.
Medicaid law allows a Medicaid applicant to be eligible for benefits for up to three months before the month of the application if the applicant met eligibility requirements at the earlier time. This helps people who are unexpectedly admitted to a nursing home and can’t file — or are unaware that they should file — a Medicaid application right away. Preparing an application for Medicaid nursing home coverage may take many weeks; the retroactive coverage gives families a window of opportunity to apply and get coverage dating back to when their loved one first entered the nursing home. “Retroactive coverage is one of the long-standing safeguards built into the program for low-income Medicaid beneficiaries and their healthcare providers,” says the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Now Arizona and Florida are joining a growing list of states that are asking the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to eliminate the retroactive benefits. CMS has already approved similar requests by Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, and New Hampshire to waive retroactive coverage. A lawsuit is challenging Kentucky’s waiver, which also imposes work requirements for Medicaid recipients.
Advocates argue that if Medicaid applicants cannot get coverage before the month of application, they may be saddled with uncovered medical bills or fail to receive needed health care because they cannot afford it. According to Justice in Aging, which filed a brief in the Kentucky lawsuit, Medicaid applicants often do not file an application right away because of the complexity of the Medicaid application process or a false belief that Medicare would cover nursing home care.
For more information about the implications of the elimination of retroactive benefits, click here for a Kyser Family Foundation issue paper.
There is one final note of caution when electing to request the retroactive benefits on the Medicaid application. It is important to use care if gifts were made in the prior five years. An applicant may get outside the five year look-back, click the box requesting three months of retroactive benefits and find himself back inside the five year lookback triggering a penalty.