I will be providing training on Alabama Medicaid Estate Recovery on Tuesday, 09/20/22, at 10:00 a.m. Central time. If you feel like you could benefit from information on this topic be sure to register with the Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging. Free CEUs are being offered for social workers, nursing home administrators, occupational therapists and physical therapists.
We will be examining how estate recovery works in Alabama, and who is at risk for losing property to repay benefits Medicaid pays on their behalf.
It is standard advice to avoid co-mingle property of an older relative with your own money because it may be necessary to prove what belongs to each. For instance, if your relative needs to apply for Medicaid it may be difficult to provide a clean trail of his or her assets and expenditures for five years prior to application as is required by Medicaid.
But the ultimate co-mingling is when families live on property owned by the older relative who never partitioned the property to deed individual parcels to the children or grandchildren. It is not unusual to see families who live and operate businesses off the property of an aging mother, father, or grandparent. This can provide a great family support system and work for all parties involved. Until it doesn’t.
If the aging parent becomes sick enough to need nursing home placement and there are not enough liquid resources to pay for that, then the property will need to be liquidated to provide income to pay for nursing home care or to spend down assets before qualifying for Medicaid. This leaves the relatives living on the property in a very precarious position.
If you are in this position, get legal advice now about what you can do to protect yourself and your aging relative before it becomes an emergency.
Medicaid’s maximum monthly maintenance needs allowance (MMMNA) changes every July. This is the most in monthly income that a spouse living at home (known as the community spouse) is allowed to have when his or her own income is not enough on which to live, allowing him or her to take some or all of the institutionalized spouse’s income. The minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance as of July 2022 for Alabama is $2289 (up from $2178) As an example, a community spouse who has income of $1500 whose spouse entering the nursing home has $2200 in income, would be allowed to keep $789 of the institutionalized spouse’s income each month – enough to bring his or her income up to $2289.
As for resource limits established every January, in 2022 the community spouse may keep as much as $137,400 without jeopardizing the Medicaid eligibility of the spouse who is receiving long-term care. Known as the community spouse resource allowance or CSRA, this is the most that a state may allow a community spouse to retain. While some states set a lower maximum, the least that a state may allow a community spouse to retain in 2022 is $27,480. As of January 2022 Alabama allows the community spouse to keep one-half of the couple’s resources, not to exceed the maximum of $137,400.
If nursing home care is anticipated in the future it is important to calculate the income and resources of a couple to determine the financial impact long term care will have and to plan to retain as much as possible and still qualify for Medicaid coverage.
When Nursing Home Medicaid eligibility has been established there is an amount of income that the nursing home resident must pay directly to the nursing home. After that amount is paid Medicaid picks up the difference in that personal liability and the nursing home Medicaid rate for room and board.
paying the personal liability Medicaid will allow the resident to keep:
The personal needs allowance of $30 per month;
The spousal minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance (enough money to bring the income of the spouse at home up to $2178);
Family maintenance needs allowance (a similar allowance for minor or dependent adult child, a dependent parent or a dependent sibling of either spouse);
Costs of necessary medical or remedial care not covered by a third party (e.g. Medicare Part B premium).
These allowances are made to the extent the resident’s income can cover them. It is entirely possible for the patient to exhaust his or her income before paying any personal liability at all to the nursing home.
It is important to remember that during the time a Medicaid application is pending the resident should pay the estimated personal liability or risk receiving a bill for this amount from the nursing home. After eligibility is established Medicaid will publish the exact personal liability to use.
All long-term care costs rose sharply in 2020, but assisted living facility costs increased the most, according to Genworth’s latest annual Cost of Care Survey. The across-the-board rises were due in part to increased costs brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the past year, assisted living facility rates grew 6.15 percent for a median cost of $51,600 per year or $4,300 per month. Genworth also reports that the median annual cost of home health aides rose 4.35 percent to $54,912, while the median cost of a private nursing home room rose 3.57 percent to $105,850 and the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is now $93,075, up 3.24 percent from 2019. The national median annual rate for the services of a homemaker also climbed 4.44 percent to $53,768.
In response to this year’s price increases, Genworth conducted a follow-up study to understand how COVID-19 is impacting the cost of care. Genworth found that labor shortages, personal protective equipment costs, regulatory changes, employee recruitment and retention, wage pressure, and supply and demand were contributing to rate rises.
The only care setting where costs did not increase was adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day. Costs for adult day care actually fell from $75 to $74 a day, a 1.33 percent decrease, perhaps because many adult day care sites have been forced to close due to the pandemic.
Monthly care costs for Alabama in 2020 were:
Homemaker services, $3432; homemaker health aide, $3432; adult day health care, $655; assisted living private one bedroom, $3150; nursing home semi-private room, $6540; and nursing home private room, $6911.
Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care by far, with the median annual cost of a private nursing home room totaling $436,540 per year (yes, that is not a typo – it really is that expensive). Missouri was the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of a private room of $68,985 per year.
The 2020 survey, conducted by CareScout for the seventeenth straight year, was based on responses from 14,326 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers. Survey respondents were contacted by phone during July and August 2020.
As the survey indicates, long-term care is growing ever more expensive making planning for long-term care essential.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued its Interim Final Rule Updating Requirements for Notification of Confirmed and Suspected COVID-19 Cases Among Residents and Staff in Nursing Homes. This is good news for people who are concerned about their relatives living in long-term care.
CMS will require nursing homes to report COVID-19 facility data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and to report to residents, their representatives, and families of residents in facilities. Failure to report in accordance with 42 CFR §483.80(g) can result in an enforcement action.
There have been some problems for Alabama residents trying to obtain information about infection rates in individual facilities despite the fact that it is reported that residents and staff members of long-term care facilities now account for about 13 percent of the cases in Alabama, and 100 deaths in long-term cre facilities account for more than a third of the state’s total deaths as of May 1. Since relatives have been unable to visit since March, a great deal of anxiety about the care of residents has increased.
In Alabama up until now staff are required to tell families if someone living or working at the facility has tested positive for coronavirus, but those facilities do not have to say how many cases have been reported. Greater transparency will benefit family members seeking to protect their institutionalized loved ones.
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.
The Veterans Administration has a federal and state program addressing health care needs of veterans and provides an option for long-term care.
There are four VA nursing facilities in Alabama:
Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City;
William F. Green State Veterans Home in Bay Minette;
Floyd E. “Tut” Fann State Veterans Home in Huntsville; and
Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City.
In the VA system State VA and Federal VA contribute toward the charged rate, leaving the veteran responsible for the remainder. Actually this VA system is a highly affordable nursing home care option after the state and federal government provide subsidies.
In 2019 the out of pocket cost for care in the VA facilities in Alexander City, Bay Minette and Huntsville is $355.02 per month, and the out of pocket cost for care in the Pell City facility is $732.
The average wait for a bed is four to five months for Alexander City; six months for Bay Minette; three to four months for Huntsville; and two to three years for Pell City.
In July 2019 The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to build an additional $60 million veteran’s home on 27 acres in one of nine Southeast Alabama Wiregrass counties. The new nursing facility will provide care for 150 – 175 elderly veterans and will be located in either Barbour, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Houston or Pike County.
The VA is required to provide nursing home care to any veteran who needs that level of care because of a service-connected disability, has a combined disability rating of 70 percent or more or has a disability rating of at least 60 percent and is deemed unemployable or has been rated permanently and totally disabled. Other veterans in need of nursing home care will be provided services if resources are available after the priority groups are served.
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.
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.