Archive for the ‘Medicaid’ Category

Advocates Say Proposed Cuts to Medicaid Will Harm Seniors and People with Disabilities

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Health care legislation currently being considered by Congress includes steep cuts to the Medicaid program, which advocates for seniors and people with disabilities say will cause tremendous harm.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the legislation, the American Health Care Act, on May 4, 2017. The U.S. Senate is now considering its amended version, which is called the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). The bill is a move by Republican lawmakers to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, passed under President Obama.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that under the BCRA, the number of uninsured people would increase by 15 million next year, and by 22 million by 2026.

Critics have numerous objections to the bill, but advocates for seniors and people with disabilities have focused on the harm they say will be caused by cuts to Medicaid, the joint federal and state program that insures nearly one in five Americans.

The Affordable Care Act expanded eligibility for Medicaid, though states could opt out. The BCRA would phase out that expansion by 2024, and would make further cuts as well, by permanently restructuring the program. Medicaid is a partnership between the federal government and the states, and the new legislation would cap the amount contributed by the federal budget, leaving states to make up the difference or cut benefits.

Medicaid is the nation’s largest government health care program, covering more people than Medicare. Medicaid covers 64 percent of all nursing home residents, 60 percent of all children with disabilities, 30 percent of all adults with disabilities, 76 percent of poor children and 49 percent of all births.

Some nursing home residents could be forced out by the cuts. Under federal law, state Medicaid programs must cover nursing home care, but the Center for Medicare Advocacy predicted that under the budgetary pressures that would be imposed under the BCRA, states would have to limit how much they pay, or restrict eligibility. The AARP said that under the new legislation, older adults could also be charged up to five times more for health insurance than younger people. Under the Affordable Care Act, rates are capped at three times more.

People with disabilities say that cuts to Medicaid would be devastating, likely resulting in reduced access to home and community-based services that allow many to live independently rather than in institutions.

The BCRA is opposed by the Arc, the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society’s action network.

Concerned citizens can contact their representatives in Congress by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

 

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Is Your Estate Plan Up To Date?

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

By: Amy C. O’Hara, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

In order to ensure your existing estate plan meets your objectives, it is imperative that it be reviewed at least every 3-5 years and updated when needed.  Here are some issues that might necessitate updating your estate plan:

  • You want to avoid probate;
  • You or a beneficiary become disabled or have a long-term illness;
  • Death of a beneficiary;
  • Marriage, divorce or remarriage;
  • Birth or adoption of a child;
  • Death or change of executor, trustee, and/o guardian;
  • A change in the distribution of your estate;
  • A significant increase or decrease in your net worth;
  • Retirement;
  • Expecting to change state of domicile; and
  • Finally, any time you feel uneasy about any of your documents, making changes and/or speaking with your estate planning lawyer to make you feel comfortable with them.

Never make any changes on your current estate planning documents.  Mark-outs, interlineations and other informal changes are of no effect and will not be honored during an illness or after your death.  It is important to meet with an experienced estate planning lawyer to ensure you estate plan is updated properly to protect you and your loved ones.

 

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Westchester to Receive $3.3 Million Grant for In-Home Senior Services

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services will receive a $3.3 million grant for in-home services for seniors.

Gov. Cuomo said that the funding would help older New Yorkers continue to live in their homes with dignity and would improve their quality of life.

New York State’s county-based Area Agencies on Aging will receive a total of $50 million through the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program to help seniors remain in their homes and communities. The program is intended to maximize independence, providing the assistance that seniors need in order maintain a high quality of life in their communities. This may prevent the need for more expensive care, the cost of which is often borne by Medicaid.

The services are designed to help lower income seniors who may have functional impairments and need help with activities of daily living. The in-home services program provides non-medical supports such as assistance with cooking, shopping and getting bills paid.Littman Krooks Elder Law

State Senator Sue Serino, chain of the Senate Standing Committee on Aging, said that both seniors and the community at large benefit when people are able to age in place. When seniors maintain their independence costly nursing home placement is prevented. The program is expected to benefit nearly 70,000 New York seniors.

To be eligible, seniors must not be eligible for similar services such as Medicaid, must be 60 years of age or older and must be able to reside safely in the community. It is not necessary to show that there is a medical need for the services.

 

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Medicaid Asset Transfers: What Are The Rules?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

For many families, paying for a loved one’s extended stay in a nursing home would be difficult without the help of Medicaid. However, in order to qualify for the program, a person’s income and assets must fall within certain limits.

Federal rules state that to qualify for Medicaid nursing home coverage, a person must have no more than $2,000 in “countable” assets. However, New York State has more generous rules, so for New York residents in 2016 the limit is $14,850 for a single person. If a married person needs nursing home care, there are protections for a spouse who remains outside. In this situation, the community spouse has a maximum threshold of &74,820 to $119,220 ($14,850 for the institutionalized person and $119,220 for that person’s spouse). Certain types of resources are exempt, such as up to $828,000 of equity in a home and one motor vehicle.

Littman Krooks Elder LawIf you have countable resources above the limits, you may be told that you need to “spend down” your assets, paying for nursing home care yourself, until you reach the resource limits, at which point Medicaid begins covering the cost. This is what happens in many cases. In other cases, a family may anticipate the need for long-term care and wish to transfer assets to the next generation ahead of time, in order to preserve the family’s resources while still qualifying for Medicaid. This is an excellent strategy, as long as the Medicaid rules are followed.

Medicaid has a five-year “look-back” period for transfers of assets. A person applying for Medicaid must disclose all financial transactions for the previous five years. During this time, any transfers of assets for less than fair market value may prevent the person from being eligible for Medicaid. (However, in New York State, the asset transfer rules do not apply for recipients of Medicaid for home care services.) In addition, invalid transfers may result in a costly penalty period during which ineligibility may continue even after assets are spent down.

To avoid ineligibility and penalties, it is important to plan ahead. Transfers made more than five years in advance are not affected by the rules. There are also important exceptions to the asset transfer rules as well as legal strategies including certain trusts that can help preserve assets while ensuring eligibility. As you can see, Medicaid planning is very complex and it is essential to have help from a qualified elder law attorney.

 

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Seniors & Mental Health: Is it Mental Illness or Aging?

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Seniors are more at risk for mental illness than the general population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 20 percent of people age 55 and older experience some kind of mental health concern. Not only are more seniors affected by mental illness, nearly one in three affected older adults does not receive treatment. By learning more about this often-misunderstood problem and watching for warning signs, we may be able to help elders in need get treatment.

Littman Krooks Elder LawMost people are aware that seniors are more at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairment. About 11 percent of seniors have Alzheimer’s disease, but it is crucial to understand that cognitive decline is not a normal part of aging. Therefore, changes such as increased forgetfulness, confusion or disorientation should be taken seriously. With a prompt diagnosis, seniors can benefit from treatment earlier, and any necessary changes to their living environment can be made in order to keep them safe.

Seniors are also at risk for depression and mood disorders. According to the CDC, in a 2006 survey, 10.5 percent of people age 65 and older said they had received a diagnosis of depression at some time in their lives, and 5 percent had current depression. Another 7.6 percent received a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Anxiety disorders can include a variety of problems, such as phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, including hoarding syndrome. Many seniors fail to seek treatment, in part because some people mistakenly believe that depression is a condition natural to aging.

Mental health concerns can have consequences beyond the symptoms of the condition itself. Untreated mental illness can lead to social isolation, take away from seniors’ independence, and cause physical problems and additional medical concerns. That is why it is important for seniors to take preventive measures, and for their loved ones to be aware of warning signs.

Studies have shown that preventive measures can alleviate mental health problems. The risk of depression and anxiety can be lowered as a result of better physical health. Simple exercise three times a week can be even more effective than prescription medication. Research also indicates that keeping the mind active, through social activities, games and puzzles, and communication with friends and family, can decrease the risk of mental health disorders.

Loved ones and caregivers should watch for changes that may indicate mental health concerns for seniors.

Warning signs include:

  • social withdrawal,
  • a depressed mood that lasts longer than two weeks,
  • memory loss,
  • confusion,
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt,
  • unexplained physical changes, such as in dress, weight or hygiene.

If any of these symptoms appear, discuss them with the family doctor. Treatment such as counseling or psychiatric care can help seniors get on the right track to healthy aging.

 

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Learn the Facts About Medicare, Medicaid and Long-term Care

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

More than 40 million seniors rely on Medicare for their everyday health insurance needs, and many mistakenly assume that Medicare will also cover long-term care if it is needed. In fact, there are specific limitations to Medicare coverage for long-term care, and such care is often covered instead by Medicaid, which has eligibility requirements. Therefore, it is important to understand how these two public benefit programs affect long-term care expenses.

Littman Krooks Elder Law

Medicare pays for health care for people age 65 years and older or with certain disabilities. Under certain conditions, Medicare will pay for short-term stays in skilled nursing facilities, hospice care, or home health care. Generally, Medicare focuses on medically necessary care such as doctor’s visits and hospital stays, rather than personal care services associated with long-term care.

Until recently, there was an unevenly enforced “improvement standard,” by which Medicare beneficiaries were denied coverage if their condition was no longer improving. However, the settlement of Jimmo v. Sebelius, a 2013 lawsuit, clarified that no such “improvement standard” can be enforced, and people with chronic conditions can continue to be eligible for Medicare to pay for their medical treatment.

Nevertheless, Medicare generally does not provide for room, board and custodial care such as that offered in a skilled nursing facility. Therefore, people needing such care usually use personal resources, long-term care insurance, and Medicaid. Medicaid has income and asset eligibility requirements, and many seniors will have to spend down some assets to qualify. The financial requirements for Medicaid can be complicated, and the advice of an experienced elder law attorney can be invaluable in planning for long-term care.

 

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Age-Related Financial and Planning Milestones that People Will Encounter in their Sixties

Friday, March 28th, 2014

As one nears retirement age, a number of important financial planning milestones begin to approach. It can be difficult to keep them all straight. Here is a timeline of what happens when:

  • At age 59 1/2, people can begin to make withdrawals from 401(k)s, traditional IRAs and similar retirement savings accounts, without an additional tax penalty of 10 percent. (Withdrawals are still taxed as income in any case.) Of course, just because one can begin to make withdrawals at this age does not mean one necessarily should.
  • At age 60, if one’s spouse has died, then one can begin to collect a Social Security survivor benefit. This is also true if an ex-spouse has died, if the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the survivor did not remarry.
  • Upon reaching age 62, people can take the option of early Social Security retirement benefits. Keep in mind that starting one’s benefits early results in lower payments, and it is usually better to wait a few years to receive a larger benefit. If one is eligible for a pension, these benefits also often kick in at this age.
  • At age 65, one becomes eligible for Medicare. There is a seven-month window around one’s 65th birthday to sign up for Medicare benefits and avoid a surcharge.
  •  Age 66, for most baby boomers, is full retirement age for the purposes of Social Security retirement benefits. Additionally, at this age, someone who chose early benefits can now suspend benefits in order to build up delayed retirement credits.
  •  Upon reaching age 70, there is no further advantage to delaying taking Social Security retirement benefits. People who wait until this age to begin receiving benefits maximize their monthly payments.
  • At age 70 1/2, required minimum distributions begin for 401(k)s and IRAs. A certain amount must be withdrawn from these accounts each year, based on the total value of all such accounts.

By paying close attention to these milestones, one can complete a more precise budget, an important part of retirement planning.

 

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Further Thoughts on Long-Term Care Insurance

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Our recent post (see below) entitled, “Is Long-Term Care Insurance Worth the Cost?” has generated a lot of discussion.

We’d like to clarify a few points:

  • Long Term Care (LTC) insurance pays for expenses associated with chronic illnesses, such as home care, assisted living and nursing homes. On a long-term basis, these expenses are not covered by Medicare, which covers mainly short term rehabilitation.
  • In many cases, long-term care insurance enables policy holders to protect their financial assets.
  • Premiums for LTC insurance are based on a variety of factors, including the person’s age, health, medical history and policy benefits.  The earlier you buy, the less expensive the policy will be.

Whether and when a particular individual should purchase a LTC policy is a complex issue and the answer to the question posed in the original post can differ by individual, age, family situation, income and assets.  There really is no bright line test. LTC insurance should be considered by all as part of the estate planning process.

Before purchasing a LTC  policy:

  • Familiarize yourself with the benefits as well as the limitations
  • Have a thorough understanding of your financial situation and goals

Work with a reputable agent who specializes in LTC insurance.  In addition, speak to an elder law attorney and discuss the terms of the policy, the costs, the associated benefits as well as the financial strength of the insurer.

 

Is Long-Term Care Insurance Worth the Cost?

As the cost of a nursing home stay has increased, so has the cost of long-term care insurance, causing many seniors to reassess the value of such insurance.

Many people’s financial planning for retirement includes a combination of Social Security retirement benefits, other sources of income such as a pension, and savings and investments. On the expenses side, many costs are stable and predictable, with one serious risk being the need for nursing care for a long period of time. Since the annual cost of care in an Alzheimer’s unit can reach $100,000 or more, it is no wonder that many consider long-term care insurance. However, it is important to think about whether such protection is right for you.

First, keep in mind that many nursing home stays are not covered by such policies. Most long-term care policies do not cover the first 90 days, and two-thirds of nursing home stays are for less than 90 days, so insurance will not help at all in these cases. In the case of an extended stay, many policies will cover only a certain dollar amount and only for the period of time covered, often three years.

For many seniors entering a nursing home for an indefinite stay, Medicare will provide for the cost, with assets being used to offset the cost until they are exhausted, when Medicaid will kick in. Therefore, for a single person with no heirs, long-term care insurance may not be necessary. For a married couple, if one spouse requires an extended stay in a nursing home, the healthy spouse may keep the house, one vehicle, and assets of about $116,000 (the amount varies by state), and still qualify for Medicaid for the nursing home expenses.

One view is that long-term care insurance may be unnecessary either if a couple’s assets are less than $116,000 exclusive of the home and one vehicle, such that they will be eligible for Medicaid, or if assets are above about $700,000, in which case the couple can probably self-fund a nursing home stay. Within that window between roughly $116,000 and $700,000, long-term care insurance may be useful.

 

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How Divorce and Remarriage Affect Social Security Retirement Benefits

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

People considering divorce as their 10-year wedding anniversary approaches should know that delaying the split until after the decade mark can result in higher Social Security retirement benefits for a spouse with a lower earning record.

Taking the example of a divorced couple where the ex-husband had a higher earnings record, if the couple was married for 10 years or more, then the ex-wife can receive higher benefits based on his record, provided she is age 62 or older and has not remarried.

Even if the ex-husband has not applied for retirement benefits, the ex-wife may receive benefits based on his record, provided they have been divorced for more than two years. If the woman remarries, then she would no longer be able to collect the benefits unless the later marriage ends.lawyer-or-notary-with-cl

Recent years have seen a rise in both marriages and divorces later in life, and statistics suggest that divorcing couples may take retirement benefits into account, as there is a measurable increase in divorce after the 10-year mark. As might be expected, the effect is most pronounced for couples nearing retirement age. A recent study found that for people 55 and older, there is an 11.7 percent increase in the likelihood of divorce at about the decade mark. For couples age 35 to 55, that drops to a 6 percent increase in likelihood of divorce at 10 years, and for people under age 35, there is almost no effect.

Other researchers are skeptical that many people take retirement benefits into account in their divorce decisions, pointing to studies that show that only 13 percent of people are very knowledgeable about how Social Security benefits are calculated.

Whether divorcing couples currently consider retirement benefits in timing their divorce, many advisers agree that they should. Divorcing just short of the 10-year mark could result in thousands of dollars in lost benefits, so it may be worthwhile for some to delay the process.

Financial considerations are often part of making decisions about divorce, so it is important to be aware of how Social Security benefits can be affected.

 

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Retirement Benefits: How Social Security, Medicare and Retirement Accounts Change in 2014

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Medicare, Social Security retirement benefits, and individual retirement accounts all change in small but important ways in 2014, and people too young for Medicare will have new health insurance options. Here is what is changing.

First, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, people retiring before age 65 can now purchase health insurance on the new state health insurance exchanges. People can no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, and subsidies may be available for low and middle income earners.

For people on Medicare, the Part D prescription coverage gap has lessened in effect. Once a Medicare beneficiary has spent $2,850 on medication, then there is a gap until catastrophic coverage kicks in after $4,550 in costs for medication. In that gap, beneficiaries were required to pay 79 percent of drug costs, but that decreases to 72 percent in 2014.

Social Security benefits go up by 1.5 percent in 2014, due to the annual cost-of-living increase. The average increase will be $19 per month for individuals and $31 per month for couples who are both receiving benefits.

Social Security taxes increase for some in 2014. Workers usually pay 6.2 percent of their income into the system until they reach the $113,700 tax cap for the year. For 2014, that cap rises to $117,000.

Finally, the income limits for those eligible to contribute to individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and 401(k)s have increased. Investors who have workplace 401(k)s and also want an IRA can claim a tax deduction for IRA contributions until their adjusted gross income (AGI) reaches between $60,000 and $70,000, an increase of $1,000 over last year. For married couples, the income limits are now between $96,000 and $116,000. The income phaseout range for investors whose spouses have a 401(k) is up $3,000 from last year, to between $181,000 and $191,000. For Roth IRAs, the income phaseout range increased by $2,000, to between $114,000 and $129,000, or for married couples between $181,000 and $191,000.

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