What Do You Mean Medicare Won’t Pay for Dad’s Nursing Home Stay?!

A three-day hospitalization often serves as a gateway for a senior citizen’s transition into a skilled care facility. When the patient is discharged to a skilled care facility for occupational, physical, or speech therapy, the patient’s health insurance (Medicare) will continue to finance treatment for up to 100 days per stay (as long as the person continues to benefit from rehab). Medicare coverage ultimately ends, and when it does, the patient must pay from income, savings, long-term care insurance, Medicaid, or a combination of these resources.

Jo-Ann’s ninety year-old father, Ed, recently suffered a massive stroke. After spending four days in the hospital, Ed was transferred to the Odd Fellows Home in Worcester, Massachusetts for round the clock skilled care. Medicare covered the entirety of Ed’s expenses for the first 20 days of his stay, and Ed fronted a $95 copayment for days 21-100. It is now day 101. Medicare refuses to pay for Ed’s care because the program contends coverage has ended and that Ed now must meet his skilled care expenses from another source.  Ed has been primarily dependent on monthly Social Security checks after running through his savings a few years ago. Jo-Ann is a single mother of four children who fears that she won’t be able to keep her father in a nursing home due to her financial inabilities and his exhausted savings. She thought that since Ed paid taxes his whole life it would have guaranteed him government-funded nursing home care. What are Ed’s options?

It is easy to confuse Medicare with Medicaid. Medicare is a federal health insurance program. Anyone who has paid their taxes and meets specific qualifications (is over the age of 65, or who has been blind or disabled for the past two years) is entitled to Medicare coverage. Hospitalization, immunizations, medical equipment, and physician visits are covered by Medicare, while deductibles and co-pays are often covered by a form of supplemental policy. Medicare applies regardless of financial need but will not pay for nursing home care except in extremely limited circumstances, and then only for small durations.

Ed might benefit from applying for Medicaid, or MassHealth in Massachusetts. A joint federal and state program for individuals with certain medical needs who are financially needy, Medicaid/MassHealth is often the chief financier for nursing home care. An applicant may have no more than $2000 in countable assets (cash, savings, mutual funds, retirement accounts, houses) before requesting Medicaid/MassHealth. To achieve Medicaid/MassHealth payouts, many individuals will seek to transfer their assets to loved ones to demonstrate financial need. It is important to note that the transfer of assets for less than their fair market value will result in a corresponding ineligibility period for Medicaid/MassHealth coverage of nursing home care.

The average cost of a nursing home in Massachusetts is an astounding $11,000 per month. If you or a loved one has exhausted all means of paying for skilled care, it is important to contact an Elder Law attorney to discuss your options. After recommending Medicaid/MassHealth, an Elder Law attorney may suggest ways to set aside funds and assets for your family without jeopardizing the patient’s medical care and “spend down” ideas which benefit the patient.

Medicaid/MassHealth rules are complex and confusing. Further, nothing in this area is concrete or insulated from legal or policy change. Vickstrom Law can help explain the interrelationship between Medicaid/MassHealth and nursing homes and can assist with protecting and preserving assets for a spouse or other family members.

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