This may not be a question that you’ve asked yourself lately – or even one that you ever thought you would consider, but is your eligibility for Medicaid benefits secure? That might seem like an odd thing to ask, especially if you’re in the prime of your working-age years and busy squirreling away money for retirement and an eventual addition to the house, but it is something that you might want to think about. The fact is that even those of us who feel like we’re in a pretty good financial place right now might eventually discover that the high cost of nursing home care calls all of those assumptions into question.
And make no mistake: nursing home costs are higher than they’ve ever been, and costs are expected to rise even more in the coming years. Already, the median annual cost for nursing home care in the state of Florida is more than $87,000 – and that’s for a semi-private room. If you need a private room for any reason, those costs are even higher. Obviously, that type of expenditure can make short work of any senior’s savings in no time at all – consuming his or her estate and leaving behind nothing for that senior to leave as a legacy for heirs and other loved ones.
Of course, there are seniors who follow that path. They liquidate their assets and use them to pay for their nursing care. Often times, they end up with nothing to show for their life’s work than the loved ones they leave behind and a wealth of shared memories. In many instances, their spouses and other family members pitch in as well, causing financial hardship for the entire family. In short, the high cost of long-term care can have wide-reaching financial impact even beyond that felt by the nursing home resident.
How Medicaid Can Help?
All of that brings us back to that original question about your Medicaid eligibility. Have you engaged in the type of planning that will ensure that you have secured Medicaid eligibility to help cover the costs of your nursing home care? It may be that you’ve simply assumed that the Medicaid program was not intended to help with senior long-term care, so the thought that you might one day come to rely on its benefits is something you’ve never contemplated. Here’s the thing, though: Medicaid is more than just a program to help low-income Americans. It now plays a major role in senior care as well.
Over the years, Medicaid has expanded its reach to the point where it now covers the costs of care for more than half of all nursing home residents in the state of Florida. Nor is Florida alone in that regard. Across the nation, the program now serves as the single largest payer for long-term care facility bills – outstripping long-term care insurance and self-pay options by a significant margin. The fact is that Medicaid has become the go-to payment option for millions of seniors who need help covering their nursing home costs.
Now, you might have assumed that Medicare would cover any senior health care costs that you might have in the future. That is, of course, why we all pay into the program during our working years. The fact is, however, that Medicare does not pay for long-term care of the type that most seniors need when they are relocated to a nursing home, except in certain situations. And even then, the Medicare system only covers those costs for a maximum of 100 days. Beyond that point, seniors have to look for other options. Medicaid is the best option for many Florida seniors, but only if they can qualify for the program. As you might expect, that’s not always as easy as it might sound.
Qualifying for Benefits
To qualify for program benefits and ensure that your long-term care costs are covered, you must meet strict income and asset requirements. For many seniors, their savings and monthly income may place them just outside of those asset and income limits. Ineligibility leaves them with the option of either spending those assets on nursing home care until they have almost nothing left, or finding another path to eligibility. Medicaid planning offers that alternative pathway to benefits.
With effective Medicaid planning, you can shelter some assets and protect them from nursing home costs without harming your program eligibility. It should be noted, though, that this is a complex process that has many potential pitfalls. For example, Medicaid’s five-year look-back period enables the program to penalize asset transfers that occur within the five-year time frame prior to your application for benefits. If you make a mistake in your asset transfers and leave yourself vulnerable to the look-back period, then you could face stiff eligibility penalties that could prevent you from qualifying for assistance for many months after entering a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
For that reason, any attempts to convert countable assets into non-countable assets should only be undertaken with the assistance and guidance provided by an experienced Medicaid planning attorney. He or she can help to determine which of the many planning options will work best for your situation, and an attorney can work with you to preserve as much of your estate as possible while securing the benefits you need.
At Robert Kulas Attorneys at Law, our estate planning and elder law attorneys can help to guide you through these difficult and complex decisions to ensure that you create the Medicaid plan you need to protect your future interests. Our team will work to identify the best options for your unique circumstances and utilize the most effective planning tools to secure your Medicaid eligibility, and address any other estate planning or elder law concerns that you may have. To learn more about how we can help you to create the ideal Medicaid planning strategy for your needs, contact us online or call us at (772) 398-0720.