Ohio Medicaid changes “Aged Blind Disabled” Eligibility – Penalty Recovery through a Special Needs Trust

This week’s blog continues the discussion of the changes to Ohio Medicaid’s Aged, Blind and Disabled program coming in 2016-2017.  The initial installment (April 28, 2016) provided an overview of the transition from the old system (following section 209(b) of the federal Medicaid law) to the new system (that will follow section 1634 of the federal Medicaid law.)  The May 5, 2016 installment discussed the new income rules that will go into effect with the new eligibility system.  The May 12, 2016 installment discussed setting up a Qualified Income Trust (aka Miller Trust) that will be necessary for people who need ABD Medicaid to help pay for long term care.  The June 16, 2016 installment discussed the Ohio rules that describe how to use the Miller Trust each month.  The June 23, 2016installment discussed the difficulty in understanding the need for a Miller Trust.  The July 1, 2016 installment discussed the need to empty the Miller Trust account every month.  The July 7, 2016 installment discussed the need to balance the Miller Trust with the desire to have health insurance.  The July 15, 2016 installment discussed the confusing deposit rules for Miller Trusts.  The July 21, 2016 installment discussed the changes that the Ohio Department of Medicaid made to the form Miller Trust document.  The July 28, 2016 installment discussed whether income is supposed to go directly into the Miller Trust.  The August 4, 2016 installment discussed Medicaid’s insistence that the transfers (or deposits) into the Miller Trust account be automatic.  The August 11, 2016 installment discussed money that doesn’t actually reach the Medicaid-recipient that, nonetheless, counts as “income” for purposes of using a Miller Trust.  The August 18, 2016 installment discussed  the appearance that a person on long term care Medicaid has an increase in income when he/she stops paying Medicare premiums.  The August 25, 2016 installment discussed the impact of tax withholding on certain income sources and the difficulty that the tax withholding creates for the Miller Trust.  The September 2, 2016 installment discussed the limit placed on monthly costs of the Miller Trust.  The September 9, 2016 installment discussed how Ohio’s Medicaid rules appear to count income tax refunds twice.  The September 15, 2016 installment discussed the Ohio Department of Medicaid’s change in policy regarding real estate (other than the residence.)  The September 22, 2016 installment discussed keeping the house with an intent to return to home.  The September 29, 2016 installment discussed keeping the house while a dependent family member lives there.   The October 6, 2016 installment discussed the home that is co-owned by someone else (other than the spouse.)  The October 27, 2015 installment discussed real property that is “essential for self-support.”  The November 10, 2017 installment discussed the retirement funds belonging to the spouse who does not seek Medicaid’s help with long term care costs.  The November 17, 2016 installment discussed the 2016 changes in how Ohio Medicaid will allow applicants to give away some of their assets cover the resulting penalty period through a return of part of the assets.  The December 1, 2016 installment discussed Ohio Medicaid’s new prohibition on using promissory notes to recover from an applicant giving away assets.  Today’s installment will discuss the possibility of using a Special Needs Trust to recover from assets given away creating a Medicaid penalty period.

Note:  What I am calling “assets” Medicaid calls “resources.”  In Medicaid’s terminology, “assets” includes both “resources” and “income.”  Because most of the public thinks of “resources” as human resources or natural resources, and thinks of money in the bank as “assets,” I will use the term “assets” in this installment to refer to money in the bank and other similar things of value (like real estate, life insurance, etc.) that may be included in the applicant’s life savings.

Generally, when an applicant for Medicaid for long term care services gives away something of value (aka “assets,”) Medicaid will not pay for services for the amount of time that the given-away assets would have covered.  This “penalty” is found within the “transfer of assets” rule in Medicaid’s regulations.

Despite the penalty, some Medicaid applicants wish to give away some of their assets.  Usually, the applicants wish to give assets to their children.  The giving of these assets to the applicant’s children often gives the applicants a great deal of emotional relief because it allows some of their money (the results of their working lives) to outlive them.  Most parents want to leave something to their children and grandchildren.  Finding a way to allow these applicants to give some of their assets is what most elder law attorneys try to do.

The trick is finding a way to cover the applicant’s long term care costs during the time that Medicaid will not (i.e., during the “penalty period” aka the “Restricted Medicaid Coverage Period.”)  There used to be 4 different ways to cover such a penalty period.  During 2016, Ohio Medicaid changed the rules on covering this penalty period.  Today’s installment will discuss the use of a Special Needs Trust to cover a penalty period in long term care Medicaid benefits.

Prior installments have introduced the Special Needs Trust.  The April 2, 2015 installment discussed Special Needs Trusts as part of the series on qualifying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.  The April 9, 2015 installment introduced the Pooled Trusts, a Special Needs Trust for a number of people simultaneously, also as part of the series on qualifying for SSI and Medicaid.  Either of these kinds of trusts, a stand-alone Special Needs Trust and a Pooled Trust, are possible vehicles for helping to cover a penalty period.

Special Needs Trusts can be useful for covering a penalty period because a deposit into a Special Needs Trust is not an “improper transfer” triggering a penalty period.  Likewise, the contents of a Special Needs Trusts do not count as “resources” or “assets” for someone who is trying to qualify for long term care Medicaid.  These two rules concerning Special Needs Trusts make the trusts useful for “riding out” a penalty period during which Medicaid won’t pay for long term care.

To make an improper transfer (i.e., to shelter part of one’s assets from the costs of long term care,) someone who needs long term care would give away some of his/her assets and then place enough money into a Special Needs Trust to cover the monthly costs during the penalty period that results from the assets given away.  Then, enough money could come out of the Special Needs Trust each month to cover that month’s costs.

The bringing money back each month from the Special Needs Trust is just like getting money back each month from a family member in Partial Give-Back method described in the November 17, 2016 installment.  There is a big difference between the Partial Give-Back method and the Special Needs Trust method, though.  The money given away in the Partial Give-Back method (part of which money came back each month) is part of an “improper transfer” that creates a penalty period.  (The penalty period got reduced each month because of the partial give-back in that method (until the January 2016 rule change.))  Depositing money into a Special Needs Trust is not considered an “improper transfer,” so it does not increase the penalty period for Medicaid coverage.

If the plan to give away assets when applying for Medicaid includes leaving a large amount in the Special Needs Trust after the penalty period has ended, the applicant might wish to use a stand-alone Special Needs Trust (as discussed in the April 2, 2015 installment.)  If the plan to give away assets includes leaving nothing or leaving a small amount in the Special Needs Trust after the penalty period has ended, the applicant might wish to use a Pooled Trust (as discussed in the April 9, 2015 installment.)

HOWEVER, I would prefer that Special Needs Trust not be used in this manner.  A Special Needs Trust is a very important shelter for assets to benefit people with special needs.  As discussed in prior installments, a Special Needs Trust can give a great deal of life enjoyment to someone who might otherwise be able to have nothing because of the financial limitations of government income and health programs for people with disabilities.  That enabling of life enjoyment is what a Special Needs Trust should, in my opinion, be used for.

Unfortunately, government policy makers who do not like to spend money on people with special needs repeatedly launch attacks on the Special Needs Trust law and rules, especially focusing on Pooled Trusts.  The use of Special Needs Trusts to counterbalance an improper transfer of assets when applying for Medicaid gives such hard-hearted government officials another reason to attack Special Needs Trusts.  Because other methods are available to cover a penalty period that accompanies an improper transfer of assets, I urge you NOT to use Special Needs Trusts for that purpose.

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