The Center for Elder Law Solutions


 Our Expertise:
 
Medicaid & VA Care Planning
Long term care Help me protect myself, my family, and my assets if or when I need long-term care

One of the greatest fears of older Americans is that they may end up in a nursing home. This not only means a great loss of personal autonomy, but also a tremendous financial price. Depending on location and level nursing homes cost between $60,000 to $150,000 a year.

Most people end up paying for nursing home care out of their savings until they run out. Then they can qualify for Medicaid to pick up the cost. The advantages of paying privately is that you eliminate or postpone dealing with your state's welfare bureaucracy - an often demeaning and time-consuming process. The disadvantage is that it's expensive.

Careful planning, whether in advance or in response to an unanticipated need for care, can help protect your estate, whether for your spouse or for your children. This can be done by making sure you receive the benefits to which you are entitled under the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Veterans may also seek benefits from the Veterans Administration.

MEDICAID
For all practical purposes, in the United States the only "insurance" plan for long-term institutional care is Medicaid. Lacking access to alternatives such as paying privately or being covered by a long-term care insurance policy, most people pay out of their own pockets for long-term care until they become eligible for Medicaid. Although their names are confusingly alike, Medicaid and Medicare are quite different programs. For one thing, all retirees who receive Social Security benefits also receive Medicare as their health insurance. Medicare is an "entitlement" program. Medicaid, on the other hand, is a form of welfare -- or at least that's how it began. So to be eligible for Medicaid, you must become "impoverished" under the program's guidelines. With proper planning however, and with use of a special needs trust, a person may qualify even if they have substantial assets.

Also, unlike Medicare, which is totally federal, Medicaid is a joint federal-state program. Each state operates its own Medicaid system, but this system must conform to federal guidelines in order for the state to receive federal money, which pays for about half the state's Medicaid costs. (The state picks up the rest of the tab.)

This complicates matters, since the Medicaid eligibility rules are somewhat different from state to state, and they keep changing. (The states also sometimes have their own names for the program, such as "MediCal" in California and "MassHealth" in Massachusetts.) Both the federal government and most state governments seem to be continually tinkering with the eligibility requirements and restrictions. This has most recently occurred with the passage of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (the DRA) which significantly changed rules governing the treatment of asset transfers and homes of nursing home residents.

The implementation of these changes will proceed state-by-state over the next few years. The rules for gaining eligibility to the program are explained in detail in the Medicaid section of this site. But to be certain of your rights, consult an expert. He or she can guide you through the complicated rules of the different programs and help you plan ahead.

Those who are not in immediate need of long-term care may have the luxury of distributing or protecting their assets in advance. This way, when they do need long-term care, they will quickly qualify for Medicaid benefits. Giving general rules for so-called "Medicaid planning" is difficult because every client's case is different. Some have more savings or income than others. Some are married, others are single. Some have family support, others do not. Some own their own homes, some rent. The number of strategies and tools are wide and some are complex and are all used in Medicaid planning.

VETERAN AFFAIRS BENEFITS
The VA pays a pension to disabled veterans who are not able to work. The pension is also available for surviving spouses and children. This pension is available whether or not your disability is service-connected, but to be eligible you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must not have been discharged under dishonorable conditions.
  • If you enlisted before September 7, 1980, you must have served 90 days or more of active duty with at least one day during a period of war. Anyone who enlisted after September 7, 1980, however, must serve at least 24 months or the full period for which that person was called to serve
  • You must be permanently and totally disabled, or age 65 or older. You will need a letter from your doctor to prove that you are disabled.
  • In addition, your income must be below the yearly limit set by law; called the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR). The MAPR for 2009 are below:
Veteran with no dependents$11,830
Veteran with a spouse or a child$15,493
Housebound veteran with no dependents$14,457
Housebound veteran with one dependent$18,120
Additional children$2,020 for each child









Your pension depends on your income. The VA pays the difference between your income and the MAPR. The pension is usually paid in 12 equal payments.

Example:John is a single veteran and has a yearly income of $6,406. His pension benefit would be $5,424 (11,830 6,406). Therefore, he would get $452 a month.

Your income does not include welfare benefits or Supplemental Security Income. It also does not include unreimbursed medical expenses actually paid by the veteran or a member of his or her family. This can include Medicare, Medigap, and long-term care insurance premiums; over-the-counter medications taken at a doctor's recommendation; long-term care costs, such as nursing home fees; the cost of an in-home attendant that provides some medical or nursing services; and the cost of an assisted living facility. These expenses must be unreimbursed. This means that insurance must not pay the expenses. The expenses should also be recurring this means they should recur every month.

Aid and attendance. A veteran who needs the help of an attendant may qualify for additional help on top of the disability pension benefit. The veteran needs to show that he or she needs the help of an attendant on a regular basis. A veteran who lives in an assisted living facility is presumed to need aid and attendance.

A veteran who meets these requirements will get the difference between his or her income and the MAPR below (2009 figures):

Veteran who needs aid and attendance and has no dependents$11,830
Veteran who needs aid and attendance and has one dependent$19,736





 
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