Jan Neal Law Firm, LLC

Alabama Estate, Elder and Special Needs Law


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Beware Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage plans flood the market with advertising leading consumers to believe that they are missing out on the best coverage possible without an Advantage plan as opposed to Original Medicare.

True, Medicare Advantage plans often look attractive because they offer the same basic coverage as original Medicare at a seemingly lower cost, plus some additional benefits and services like vision and dental care that traditional Medicare doesn’t offer. One reason Medicare Advantage plans can offer such enhanced services is because the federal government gives them additional payments compared to Original Medicare.

But, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, there is a downside to signing up for Medicare Advantage. In an alarming number of instances, private Medicare Advantage plans are denying coverage for medical services that would be covered under original Medicare, according to a federal investigation.  These denials are likely preventing or delaying medically necessary care for tens of thousands of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries each year.

The investigation by the inspector general found that 13 percent of Medicare Advantage plan denials should have been covered under Medicare.  The findings were based on a review by doctors and coding experts of service denials by 15 of the largest Medicare Advantage plans during the first week of June 2019.   Extrapolating from their findings, investigators estimate that nearly 85,000 beneficiary requests for medical care — everything from MRIs to skilled nursing facility care — could have been wrongly denied in 2019.

In an even higher proportion of cases, plans are incorrectly refusing to pay claims. Nearly one-fifth of claims that Medicare Advantage plans initially declined to pay were for services that met Medicare coverage and plan billing rules.  This translates to an estimated 1.5 million refused payments for all of 2019, which delayed or prevented payments for services that providers had already delivered.

Hidden Barriers to Care

Some 26 million Medicare beneficiares were in Medicare Advantage plans as of 2021, more than double the figure a decade ago.  The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2030 more than half of Medicare beneficiaries will be in a private Medicare plan. Unlike original Medicare, where the federal government is the insurer, Medicare Advantage plans are run by private insurance companies. The government pays the plans a fixed monthly fee to provide services to each Medicare beneficiary under their care. The less money the plans spend on patient care, the more they and their investors make. In this way, plans have an incentive to keep costs down.

For many beneficiaries, Medicare Advantage plans’ most disagreeable cost-cutting strategy is “preauthorization” — the common requirement that doctors and other medical providers obtain the plan’s approval before a beneficiary can receive certain medical services. If the plan administrators disagree that a procedure is medically necessary, the plan may refuse to pay for it.

“[B]eneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage may not be aware that there may be greater barriers to accessing certain types of health care services in Medicare Advantage than in original Medicare,” the report states.

One example highlighted in the report tells of a Medicare Advantage plan that refused to approve a followup MRI to find out whether an adrenal lesion was malignant because the lesion was allegedly too small. In fact, Medicare’s rules do not restrict the use of followup MRIs based on the the size of a lesion. (The plan reversed its initial denial on appeal.)

Denial Appeals Can Work

The report identified two common causes of service denials. First, even though Medicare Advantage plans’ clinical criteria cannot be “more restrictive” than Medicare’s coverage rules, plans often used tighter clinical criteria, such as requiring an x-ray before approving more advanced imaging. Second, plans often claimed that the request for services lacked sufficient documentation, even though investigators who reviewed the denied claims found that the existing medical records were sufficient to support the request.

When a Medicare Advantage plan denies a preauthorization or payment request, the beneficiary can file an appeal with the plan.  The inspector general found that when a beneficiary or provider appealed or disputed the denial of a service that met Medicare’s coverage rules, plans sometimes reversed the denial.  And in certain cases, Medicare Advantage plans corrected their own errors.

The inspector general’s report offers several recommendations for the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services, which oversees Medicare Advantage plans, including better auditing of plans.   

To read the inspector general’s report, “Some Medicare Advantage Organization Denials of Prior Authorization Requests Raise Concerns About Beneficiary Access to Medically Necessary Care,” click here.  


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Alabama Medicaid for Long Term Care

To assist caregivers who are making arrangements for long term care a booklet concerning Alabama Medicaid is being made available to provide clarity for some of the issues that may arise and to provide basic information about the application process. The booklet is made available here and will remain available in the Publications section of our website. It can be read online or downloaded and printed.


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Save Your Money with a Medicaid Spend Down Special Needs Trust

You don’t really have to spend down all your resources to qualify for nursing home Medicaid.  There are multiple ways to preserve funds.  One of those ways is through the use of what I call the Medicaid Spend Down Special Needs Trust.        

Usually persons who need nursing home care end up needing Medicaid to pay for that care.  Why? Because it is so expensive.  Nursing home care can cost between $6000 and $8000 depending on the specific market area in Alabama.  At $7000 per month, the average nursing home resident will spend $84,000 in a year. Under these circumstances, most persons will exhaust their resources at a rapid rate rendering them unable to pay for the care they need without the assistance of Medicaid. 

There are some funds a married couple can preserve for the spouse who remains at home, but there is still an amount that has to be spent down if a couple has countable assets over $25,000.  A single person has to spend all of his or her resources down to $2000 before he or she can qualify for Medicaid.  Using up the assets a person saved over a lifetime is known as the dreaded Medicaid “spend down.” 

But what many people do not know is that there is a way to qualify for Medicaid to pay for nursing home care in Alabama without the resident having to go through a complete “spend down.”  That is through the use of a pooled Special Needs Trust. 

There are many types of Special Needs Trusts (SNTs), including trusts for disabled younger persons, disabled children whose parents and grandparents want to provide for their future needs, persons on public benefits who recover money from personal injury lawsuits or who inherit money when a relative dies.  Each type of SNT has highly specific requirements.  But what they all have in common is the goal of protecting funds for a disabled person without those funds resulting in the loss of public benefits. 

With the Medicaid Spend Down SNT, instead of spending down the money required to be spent by Medicaid on nursing home care before eligibility can be established, the money is paid into a SNT and can then be used to pay for special needs not otherwise paid for by Medicaid for the disabled person once he or she becomes eligible.  Medicaid eligibility can be immediately established while these funds remain available to pay for special needs for the nursing home resident. 

The drawback to this type of trust is the requirement that, on the death of the person for whom the trust was established, Medicaid must be reimbursed from funds remaining in the trust up to the amount Medicaid has paid for the nursing home resident’s care.  Still, creating a pool of money to meet the special needs of the nursing home resident after being awarded Medicaid is far better than simply spending down those funds before qualifying for Medicaid and leaving the resident with no resources to pay for special needs. Since Medicaid allows a nursing home resident to keep only $30 of his or her income each month to pay for personal needs, you can see how that is not enough to have needs met without families pitching in to help pay for necessary items.     

An example of what the SNT funds can pay for is a private room in a nursing home since Medicaid will only cover a semi-private room.  Other special needs might be items and services that can improve the quality of life for the nursing home resident such as hair salon charges, manicures, telephone, newspaper subscriptions,  audiobooks, movies, recreation, medical and dental expenses not otherwise covered, special  equipment like wheelchairs or specially-equipped vans; therapy or rehabilitation services; training and education, travel, electronic equipment including computers and mobile devices.

With a little planning the quality of life for a nursing home resident can be improved, and the burden for a family’s out of pocket expenses decreased.

Do not be confused with an internet search.  The rules are different from state to state.  Most states allow a person 65 and older to create a pooled SNT but still penalize transfers into that trust.  That is not the case in Alabama.

Contact us for more information about establishing a Medicaid Spend Down SNT.

      


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Medicaid Estate Recovery: What Medicaid Can Recoup From Your Estate

Some benefits paid by Medicaid, including expenses for long-term care after age 55, can be recouped from the recipient’s estate upon death. The federal government makes estate recovery mandatory, and each state has enacted its own rules to comply with that requirement. A new publication is available to help you understand how Alabama Medicaid Estate Recovery works and what property is at risk for being lost upon death and repayment to Medicaid. This document can be read online or downloaded and printed. It will remain available in the Publications at this web site.


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Publication on Long-Term Care Planning

Making a long-term care placement is often surprisingly complicated for those who have not previously made a placement. Finding an affordable facility to meet the needs of the person in need of care can be a challenge. Planning is critical to know what to look for and to understand cost of care and payment options for various levels of long-term care.

This e-book will provide information for those persons who will be eventually making a placement, and provide specific information for care in Alabama. It will remain available in Publications at this web site.


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Getting Part B Without Penalty After Moving From Marketplace to Medicare

Medicare is extending its offer of relief from penalties for certain Medicare beneficiaries who enrolled in Medicare Part A and had coverage through the individual marketplace. Beneficiaries who qualify will be able to enroll in Medicare Part B without paying a penalty for late enrollment if they enroll by September 30, 2018.

Individuals who do not enroll in Medicare Part B when they first become eligible face a stiff penalty, unless they are still working and their employer’s plan is considered “primary.” For each year that these individuals put off enrolling, their monthly premium increases by 10 percent — permanently. Some people with marketplace plans – that is, plans purchased by individuals or families, not through employers — did not enroll in Medicare Part B when they were first eligible. Purchasing a marketplace plan with financial assistance from the Affordable Care Act can be cheaper than enrolling in Medicare Part B. However, Medicare recipients are not eligible for marketplace financial assistance plans. And because marketplace plans are not considered equivalent coverage to Medicare Part B, signing up late for Part B will result in a late enrollment penalty.

To address this problem, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is allowing individuals who enrolled in Medicare Part A and had coverage through a marketplace plan to enroll in Medicare Part B without a penalty. It is also allowing individuals who dropped marketplace coverage and are paying a late enrollment penalty for Medicare Part B to reduce their penalty. CMS is now expanding the offer of possible relief to people who should have signed up for Part B during a special enrollment period that ended Oct. 1, 2013, or later but instead used exchange plans. It is also extending the deadline to September 30, 2018 (the earlier deadline was September 30, 2017). To be eligible for the relief, the individual must: Have an initial Medicare enrollment period that began April 1, 2013 or later; or have been notified on October 1, 2013, or later that they were retroactively eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A; or have a Part B Special Enrollment Period that ended October 1, 2013, or later. This offer is available for only a short time. To be eligible for the relief, individuals must request it by September 30, 2018.

Gather any documentation you have to prove that you are enrolled in a marketplace plan. Individuals who are eligible should contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or visit their local Social Security office and request to take advantage of the “equitable relief.”

 


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Planning for the Rising Cost of Long-Term Care

Physiotherapist Holding Senior Patient's Hand On WheelchairPlanning for long-term care is an important issue to tackle, and the latest forecast shows that the associated costs of care are reaching well beyond the average person’s means.  This makes planning to save an estate an important proposition, and the earlier the planning, the greater the options.

The median cost of a private nursing home room in the United States has increased to $97,455 a year, up 5.5 percent from 2016, according to Genworth’s 2017 Cost of Care Survey.  Genworth, an insurer, surveys and publishes long-term care prices across the country annually and provides a benchmark for what caregivers will need to finance long-term care.  The company reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $85,775, up 4.44 percent from 2016.

The price rise was slightly less for assisted living facilities, where the median rate rose 3.36 percent, to $3,750 a month. The national median rate for the services of a home health aide was $22 an hour, up from $20 in 2016, and the cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, rose from $68 to $70 a day.

For Alabama, the Genworth survey reports that the average semi-private nursing home room in 2017 was $72,996 per year/$6,083 per month (up from $71,172 per year/$5931 per month from 2016), and the average private nursing home room was $77,568 per year /$6,464 per month (up from $75,192 per year/$6,266 per month in 2016).  The average assisted living facility was $36,684 per year/$3,057 per month (up from $34,800 per year/$2,900 per month in 2016).

Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care, with the median annual cost of a private nursing home room totaling $292,000. Oklahoma again was found to be the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of a private room of $63,510.

The 2017 survey was based on responses from more than 15,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers. The survey was conducted by phone during May and June of 2017.


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Medicare Improvement Standard

Have you or a loved one been denied Medicare-covered services because you’re “not improving”? Many health care providers are still not aware that Medicare is required to cover skilled nursing and home care even if a patient is not showing improvement. If you are denied coverage based on this outdated standard, you have the right to appeal.

For decades Medicare, skilled nursing facilities, and visiting nurse associations applied the so-called “improvement” standard to determine whether residents were entitled to Medicare coverage of the care. The standard, which is not in Medicare law, only permitted coverage if the skilled treatment was deemed to contribute to improving the patient’s condition, which can be difficult to achieve for many ill seniors.

Three years ago in the case of Jimmo v. Sebelius the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) agreed to a settlement in which it acknowledged that there’s no legal basis to the “improvement” standard and that both inpatient skilled nursing care and outpatient home care and therapy may be covered under Medicare as long as the treatment helps the patient maintain her current status or simply delays or slows her decline. In other words, as long as the patient benefits from the skilled care, which can include nursing care or physical, occupational, or speech therapy, then the patient is entitled to Medicare coverage.

Medicare will cover up to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility following an inpatient hospital stay of at least three days and will cover home-based care indefinitely if the patient is homebound.

Unfortunately, despite the Jimmo settlement, the word hasn’t gotten out entirely to the hospitals, visiting nursing associations, skilled nursing facilities, and insurance intermediaries that actually apply the rules. As a result, the Jimmo plaintiffs and CMS have now agreed to a court-ordered corrective action plan, which includes the following statement:

“The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reminds the Medicare community of the Jimmo Settlement Agreement (January 2014), which clarified that the Medicare program covers skilled nursing care and skilled therapy services under Medicare’s skilled nursing facility, home health, and outpatient therapy benefits when a beneficiary needs skilled care in order to maintain function or to prevent or slow decline or deterioration (provided all other coverage criteria are met). Specifically, the JimmoSettlement required manual revisions to restate a “maintenance coverage standard” for both skilled nursing and therapy services under these benefits:

Skilled nursing services would be covered where such skilled nursing services are necessary to maintain the patient’s current condition or prevent or slow further deterioration so long as the beneficiary requires skilled care for the services to be safely and effectively provided.

Skilled therapy services are covered when an individualized assessment of the patient’s clinical condition demonstrates that the specialized judgment, knowledge, and skills of a qualified therapist (“skilled care”) are necessary for the performance of a safe and effective maintenance program. Such a maintenance program to maintain the patient’s current condition or to prevent or slow further deterioration is covered so long as the beneficiary requires skilled care for the safe and effective performance of the program.

The Jimmo Settlement may reflect a change in practice for those providers, adjudicators, and contractors who may have erroneously believed that the Medicare program covers nursing and therapy services under these benefits only when a beneficiary is expected to improve. The Settlement is consistent with the Medicare program’s regulations governing maintenance nursing and therapy in skilled nursing facilities, home health services, and outpatient therapy (physical, occupational, and speech) and nursing and therapy in inpatient rehabilitation hospitals for beneficiaries who need the level of care that such hospitals provide.”

While this doesn’t change the rights Medicare patients have always had, it should make it somewhat easier to enforce them. If you or a loved one gets denied coverage because the patient is not “improving,” then appeal.

To read the court order implementing the new corrective action plan click here.


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How to Deduct Long-Term Care Premiums From Your Income

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Taxpayers with long-term care insurance policies can deduct some of their premiums from their income. Whether you can use the deduction requires comparing your medical expenses to your income in a complicated formula.

Premiums for qualified long-term care insurance policies are tax deductible to the extent that they, along with other unreimbursed medical expenses (including Medicare premiums), exceed 10 percent of the insured’s adjusted gross income. In tax year 2016, taxpayers 65 and older only need medical expenses to exceed 7.5 percent of their income, but in 2017, taxpayers 65 and older will have the same 10 percent rule as everyone else.
The amount of long-term care insurance premium that is deductible is based on the taxpayer’s age and changes each year. For the 2016 tax year, taxpayers who are 40 or younger can deduct only $390 a year, taxpayers between 40 and 50 can deduct $730, taxpayers between 50 and 60 can deduct $1460, taxpayers between 60 and 70 can deduct $3,900, and taxpayers who are 70 or older can deduct up to $4,870 in premiums.

What this means is that taxpayers must total all of their medical expenses and compare them to their income. For example, suppose 64-year-old Frank has an adjusted gross income of $30,000 and long-term care premiums totaling $5,000 as well $1,000 in other medical expenses. Ten percent of $30,000 is $3,000. Frank can only deduct any medical expenses that exceed $3,000. The 2016 limit for deducting long-term care premiums is $3,900. That means Frank can only count $3,900 of his long-term care premiums. If he adds the $3,900 in long-term care premiums to the $1,000 in other expenses his total medical expenses are $4,900. He can deduct $1,900 in medical expenses from his income.

If Frank is 70 in 2016, the calculation changes because his medical expenses only need to exceed 7.5 percent of his income, which would be $2,250. The amount of premiums he can deduct is also increased because of his age–he can deduct up to $4,870 in premiums. Subtracting the income limit from his medical expenses ($4,870 in long-term care premiums and $1,000 in other expenses), Frank can deduct $3,620 in medical expenses from his income. In 2017, Frank will only be able to deduct medical expenses that exceeded 10 percent of his income, so the amount he can deduct will go down.


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Quarterly Newsletter Available

shutterstock_63936919Our quarterly newsletter, Elder Law Bookmarks, was sent today.  Articles included in the newsletter are:

  • People with Disabilities Can Now Create Their Own Special Needs Trusts
  • Is it Better to Remarry or Just Live Together?
  • Repealing Obamacare Will Have Consequences for Medicare
  • For Better or Worse, States Are Turning to Managed Care for Medicaid Long-Term-Care
  • Make Reviewing Your Estate Plan One of Your New Year’s Resolutions

If you want to be added to the mail list, send an email to neal@janneallaw.com.