It may be a new year, but that doesn’t mean that everything’s changed. Many of the things we took for granted in 2016 remain just as true now as they have ever been. For example, roughly half of us can still expect that we’ll require long-term care at some point later in life. And that, of course, will mean that many Florida seniors will continue to look to the Medicaid program for help meeting the high costs of nursing home care. If you’re in need of those benefits, then you should be aware that there are some minor changes to the eligibility requirements for Medicaid in 2017. Here are five vital facts that you should know about those requirements before you think about applying for Medicaid this year.
Most of the Requirements Are Unchanged
For the most part, the requirements for Medicaid eligibility in 2017 are all but unchanged. The two category requirements remain exactly as they were in 2016:
- You must be a citizen or legal resident of the United States to meet base eligibility; and
- Your medical needs must be sufficient to require the type of care that only a nursing home can provide. The only time that requirement might be waived is if you have been judged to be either mentally or physically impaired in a way that requires ongoing nursing home care.
Of course, those are just the base standards that you must meet to be eligible to apply. Beyond those requirements, you still need to meet the program’s asset and income limits. That asset limit remains unchanged as well, which means that you can have no more than $2,000 in countable assets. The community spouse asset limit has been adjusted for 2017, however. If you’re applying for Medicaid and your spouse is not, then he or she is entitled to keep a total of $120,900 in assets. That spouse can also retain other exempt assets as well, such as rental properties or other income-producing assets.
Income Limits Have Been Adjusted
The income limits have also seen an adjustment, effective January 1, 2017. While the new income limit of $2,205 might seem like a negligible difference from last year’s $2,199, it’s still important to be aware of it – especially if your current retirement income is close to that threshold. The qualified income trust – aka the Miller trust – can still be used in cases where income exceeds the new limit.
The community spouse’s income still has no limits placed upon it. More importantly, spouses with incomes that fall below $2002.50 may still be able to have some portion of their ill spouse’s income diverted to their needs under the rules governing the Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance.
The Five-Year Look-Back Period is Still in Effect
If you were rubbing your hands together in hopes that 2017 might bring about an end to Medicaid’s five-year look-back period, spare yourself the chafing. It’s not happening. The government will continue to enforce that provision of the Medicaid law to ensure that applicants are not trying to “game” the system by transferring assets to shield them from nursing home costs. And yes, the program will continue to use its eligibility penalties to impose a cost on applicants who abuse the rules. Don’t expect those things to change anytime soon.
There Are Still Asset Exemptions
Fortunately, there are still asset exemptions that ensure that certain assets won’t be counted when Medicaid determines your eligibility. For example:
- The homestead exemption is still in effect for applicants who have no more than $560,000 in home equity. That equity limit doesn’t apply in cases where the applicant’s spouse or children under the age of 21 are still living in the home. There are also waivers that Medicaid can use if necessary to protect the applicant from undue hardship.
- One car is also exempt from consideration, no matter how old it might be. You can have a second car too, provided that it is at least seven years old and not a defined luxury vehicle or collectible.
- Personal household belongings remain exempt from consideration.
- Your life insurance policy is exempt if it is term-life. Other policies are exempt up to $2,500.
- You can also have a burial plan that is valued at up to $2,500.
- Retirement plans are considered income if you’re currently drawing distributions each month. If you have not yet started to take those distributions, then the plans are counted as assets.
Medicaid Planning is More Important than Ever
One other thing hasn’t changed in 2017: Medicaid planning continues to be your best option to ensure that your eligibility is secured without penalty or loss of all assets. While there are spend-down strategies that can be used to reduce the size of your estate, careful planning can help you to avoid being forced to divest yourself of those assets.
With the right plan, you can even preserve many of your assets so that they can continue to benefit your loved ones rather than being consumed by the cost of your nursing home care. An experienced elder law attorney can help you to deal with these complicated matters, and protect your interests and rights. That attorney can aid you as you arrange your estate to ensure eligibility for benefits, protect as many assets as possible, and provide for your loved ones’ care and well-being.
It may be a new year, but seniors in the area still need sound legal guidance to help them safeguard their Medicaid eligibility and avoid potential pitfalls and penalties. At Kulas & Crawford, our elder law attorneys can provide the Medicaid planning and estate plan assistance you need to ensure that you understand and meet the eligibility requirements for Medicaid. We’ll work with you to identify potential eligibility challenges and develop useful strategies that can enable you to overcome those obstacles. Give us a call at (772) 398-0720 or contact us online today to learn more about the many ways that you can benefit from our Medicaid planning services.