Giving Gifts While on Medicaid Can Be Risky

Mabel’s children were concerned that Mabel would need long-term nursing-home care in the near future. It was the holidays, and Mabel always got a lot of joy out of generosity. But her children had heard that people in Mabel’s circumstances should not give gifts.

The concern is real. For Medicaid to cover the huge expense of nursing-home care, Mabel would have to show that she owned nothing more than around $2,000. And she must also show that she had not given away money or assets over the prior five years (2.5 years in California). That Medicaid rule – the “look-back period” or the “transfer penalty” – would charge Mabel dearly for her generosity. Depending on the size and number of gifts, the penalty could be substantial.

Many wrongly think that there is no penalty for gifts of up to around $15,000 annually. That misunderstanding confuses tax law with Medicaid law (and it also misstates tax law, but that’s another subject). The Medicaid rules are entirely different from the tax rules. In the Medicaid context, gifts of any amount that are given during the look-back period can be penalized.

There are exceptions. These include gifts to spouses and siblings under certain circumstances, disabled children, and children who are caregivers and who live at home with the elder for a span of time. But overall, gifts and Medicaid do not go together. The Medicaid rules are complicated and the consequences for mistakes can be very costly. There are a number of options to protect assets and still qualify for benefits, but these options must be weighed with great care. This is why it’s best to consult attorneys who, like us, are qualified by experience and expertise in Medicaid law.

There is one harmless deception Mabel’s children might consider, to keep Mabel happy and still satisfy the Medicaid rules. The children might help Mabel fill out checks for all the gifts she’d like to give, together with a greeting card for each gift. Everybody could thank Mabel, tear up the check later, and tell her what they “bought” with that amount. It may be that that little device would be worth it, so Mabel could enjoy the holidays too.

Otherwise, the sooner you consult a qualified elder law attorney, the more other options may be available. If we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation.

Medicare Launches App to Help Beneficiaries Find Out What’s Covered

At the doctor’s office and want to know if a procedure is covered by Medicare? There is an app for that. Medicare has launched a free app that gives beneficiaries a quick way to see whether the program covers a specific medical item or service. 

The “What’s Covered” app allows you to search or browse to learn what’s covered and not covered under Medicare Parts A and B, how and when to get covered benefits, basic cost information and other eligibility details. You can also see a list of covered preventive services.  The app does not give results for extra benefits that Medicare Advantage plans may cover but that Original Medicare does not, such as certain vision, hearing or dental benefits. 

Examples of the types of questions the app can answer include:

               When are mammograms covered?

               Is home health care covered?

               Will Medicare pay for diabetes supplies?

               Can I get a regular cervical cancer screening?

               Will my Medicare benefits cover a service to help me stop smoking?

Although the app provides beneficiaries with basic information, it doesn’t provide personalized information. It doesn’t ask details about each user’s specific insurance information, so it doesn’t take into account the user’s supplemental insurance, co-insurance, and deductibles. Essentially, the app provides another way for Medicare beneficiaries to get the same information that is available online and in the Medicare handbook.

The app is part of an initiative by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) focused on modernizing Medicare and empowering beneficiaries. Other initiatives include:

  • Enhanced interactive online decision support to help beneficiaries better understand and evaluate the coverage options and costs of original Medicare compared to Medicare Advantage plans.
  • New price transparency tools that let consumers compare the national average costs of certain procedures between settings, so people can see what they’ll pay for procedures done in a hospital outpatient department versus an ambulatory surgical center. 
  • A new webchat option in the Medicare Plan Finder.  
  • New easy-to-use surveys across Medicare.gov so consumers can tell CMS what they want.

To get the new “What’s Covered” app, go here: https://www.medicare.gov/blog/whats-covered-mobile-app.