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States are becoming more aggressive about collecting reimbursement for Medicaid nursing home care, and families of deceased recipients are often stunned to discover that the state has laid claim to the family home.

Life Care Planning, Estate Protection, Disability,
VA & Medicaid Assistance Lawyers

Medicaid Recovery of Home Catches Many Families By Surprise

Medicaid Recovery of Home Catches Many Families By Surprise

 

            States are becoming more aggressive about collecting reimbursement for Medicaid nursing home care, and families of deceased recipients are often stunned to discover that the state has laid claim to the family home.

 

            A recent edition of The Christian Science Monitor contained an article reporting on the federally-mandated practice known as Medicaid estate recovery. The article reported that state Medicaid authorities often target the home because it generally is all that is left after Medicaid applicants have qualified for Medicaid coverage of their nursing home care.

 

            No estate recovery can take place until the death of the recipient's spouse, or as long as there is a child of the deceased who is under 21 years of age or who is blind or disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Still, states go after assets like the home in a variety of ways, producing confusion, anger, and even lawsuits, according to the article.

 

            Federal law requires the state Medicaid programs to give Medicaid applicants advance notice that their home could later be seized if they accept Medicaid coverage. According to the article, however, the advance notice given to families by the state Medicaid programs is frequently inadequate to truly inform the applicant and his or her family that the home is at risk.

 

            "It's fine that these programs are required by federal law, but people need to know the rules of the game," said Wendy Fox-Grage, policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute. "We're concerned that families are not being notified."

 

            The AARP is so concerned that it has commissioned the American Bar Association to study consumer protections in this area according to Fox-Grage.  Results from the Association are expected in the spring of 2007.

 

            Elder Law Attorneys worry that fear of losing their homes has discouraged some from seeking health care. "Our concern is that people will say, ‘I don't want my husband to go to the nursing home because then the government will take my house,'" said Tim Takacs, an Elder Law Attorney in suburban Nashville, Tennessee.

 

            Like other states, Illinois also has become much more aggressive in its recovery efforts.  In Illinois, as in most of the country, the state goes after the home, farm, and business interests of the Medicaid recipient.  Illinois uses a variety of techniques, ranging from liens filed against the real estate to claims filed against the recipient's probate estate.  The state also has the authority to file lawsuits against the recipient and his or her family.

 

            With the awesome power of the state lined up against a homeowner, there should be little surprise that many elders who need medical help will do just about anything to avoid making an application for Medicaid benefits.  This often leads, in this author's experience, to the elder neglecting their essential medical and care needs. In some cases, the elder's spouse is so fearful of the government taking her home away from her, that she keeps her spouse at home far beyond the time when he needs professional care in a nursing home.  This not only jeopardizes the health of the ill spouse, but also causes a great drain on the physical and emotional energy of the other spouse.

 

            With the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced Elder Law Attorney, an elder and their spouse need not fear the loss of their home.  With knowledge of the rules along with years of experience in applying a variety of techniques, an Elder Law Attorney frequently can protect the home from the high cost of nursing home care.  Although it may be possible to do so even after an elder has entered a nursing home, to achieve the best results the elder or their spouse or other family member should consult with an Elder Law Attorney as early as possible.

 

            Richard Habiger is an elder law attorney.  You may contact him at 618-549-4529 or Richard@HabigerElderLaw.com.