Applying for MassHealth: Is the No-Cost Solution Really “No-Cost”?

Medicaid, or MassHealth as it is referred to in Massachusetts, is an avenue available for funding long-term nursing home care. To qualify, you must meet asset thresholds that many elders exceed. Additionally there are income requirements for MassHealth/Mediciad. Adequate understanding of MassHealth/Medicaid law and proper strategizing is a critical component of any plan for the future. With the proper planning of an elder-law attorney, you can protect your property, spouse, and assets.

After attempting to cope with his mother’s diagnosis of dementia for several months, Joe has finally decided to research local nursing homes for his mother. However, he is concerned about the cost while protecting his mother’s multiple properties, which have been in the family for generations. During a vist, Lindsay, a social worker from the facility, reached out to Joe, offering to complete a MassHealth application for his mother at no-cost. While Joe likes the concept of this free service, he can’t help but wonder if there is a catch involved.

Employed by the nursing home, social workers and other nursing home advocates focus on the rights of the nursing home and not the resident. The nursing home has a vested interest in keeping someone on “private-pay” for as long as possible because their private pay-rates are much higher than the amount received in MassHealth/Medicaid reimbursement. This means more out-of-pocket costs for residents than may be necessary.

Further, even if nursing home advocates do have the best of intentions, the MassHealth/Medicaid process is riddled with complex rules and regulations that are difficult to navigate for those not educated in the eligibility requirements and advantageous planning opportunities available under MassHealth/Medicaid. For instance, an individual encouraged to apply too soon might be ineligible for an extended time period and have to pay privately for a longer duration. Alternatively, the “advocate” may not inform the family that they can pre-pay for funeral expenses as part of a spend down, thereby reducing the burden on family members when the applicant passes.

Individuals that enlist family members to fill out their MassHealth applications or file themselves may face similar problems. Unfamiliar with eligibility requirements and liable to miss prime planning opportunities, these individuals are likely to encounter harsh penalties or confusion when faced with the application process, as well as income and asset verifications. Once they receive their denial notice in the mail, it will be much more expensive to get an Elder Law attorney involved at that point. Additionally there are strict time periods that must be adhered to in order to have any change at being sucessful in a MassHealth/Medicaid appeal.

Nursing home advocates and family members, although the cheapest solution up front, do not have the requisite knowledge, skills, or ability to compose trusts, devise appropriate estate plans, and represent you in an appeal setting if the need should arise. Rectifying the mistakes of an advocate or self-handled application may be more costly than a properly executed plan formulated a skilled elder law attorney. By hiring an elder law attorney to guide the MassHealth application process, you will ensure that your savings, your spousal support, and your family’s inheritance will not be jeopardized by lost opportunities in a last minute planning strategy.

Hiring a lawyer to handle your MassHealth application is a necessary investment. Elder law attorneys can save clients and their family members an amount greater than the cost of their legal services. If you are interested in learning more about the MassHealth application process or long-term care planning, contact Vickstrom Law today!

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