How often do you feel like you know what your state legislators are doing? The whole process can be mysterious and confusing. This week I would like to shed some light on the subject and tell you about a potentially helpful piece of legislation currently pending in the Massachusetts state legislature.
The proposed law would change the way assets are counted when determining whether a spouse in a nursing home, or certain other institutions and community based programs, is eligible for medical assistance through MassHealth (Medicaid). For MassHealth purposes, the spouse in the nursing home is called the “institutionalized spouse” and the spouse still living at home is referred to as the “community spouse.” Currently, under Massachusetts General Laws, chapter 118E, subsection 21A, many different types of income and asset types of both spouses are considered countable for purposes of determining eligibility. The total amount of countable income and assets are major factors the Division of Medical Assistance takes into account when determining if the institutionalized spouse is eligible for medical assistance from the Commonwealth (MassHealth/Medicaid).
The proposed legislation, sponsored in the State House by Representative Alice Peisch, and sponsored in the State Senate by Senator James Eldridge, would alter the language in the statute to make some assets that are currently countable, no longer countable. The proposals in both houses are identical. The proposed legislation would make any money held by the community spouse in an IRA, Keogh plan, or other pension fund non-countable assets as long as regular income distributions are made from the fund OR the community spouse is employed. This means that those assets would not affect the institutionalized spouse’s eligibility for medical assistance. This would come in handy in lots of potential situations, but especially in situations like a spouse in their 50’s suffering from early onset dementia, where the community spouse is still working. Many spouses in their 50’s, 60’s, and even early 70’s still work and more importantly have to work to make ends meet.
This change in the law would also be hugely beneficial to aging couples who have worked hard and diligently saved their money. If one spouse is institutionalized, the community spouse still needs to have the means for adequate support. No one should be penalized for following their financial planner’s advice and putting money away for retirement. In this system, frivolity and impoverishment would no longer be the only path to assistance from MassHealth.
The proposed legislation has been referred to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, and a public hearing is scheduled for June 3, 2010, at 1:00, in Hearing Room B1. If you are interested in learning more, contact State Senator James Eldridge. He represents parts of Middlesex and Worcester county. Most importantly, if you would like to see this legislation passed, contact your own local representative and express your support.