Assisted Living Care – I’m Out of Money So Now What?
Dad has been living in an assisted living facility for 3 years at a cost of $4500 per month. He likes it there, is safe and well cared for. There is one small problem. He is running out of money and the family is becoming desperate.
Fortunately, some states have Medicaid programs that cover assisted living care but the rules can vary significantly from nursing home Medicaid. In New Jersey, for example, if income exceeds the Medicaid cap ($2022 per month in 2009) the assisted living program wonât, under any circumstances, be an option. For those needing nursing home care, on the other hand, we have two Medicaid programs, one for those who do not exceed the income cap and a second for those who do.
The application process for Medicaid can take several months or longer. If, for example, Dad becomes eligible and applies for Medicaid beginning in February, it might take until April, or longer in some cases, for him to receive approval. In the case of nursing home Medicaid whenever Dad is approved payments will be made on his behalf retroactive to when he first applied (assuming of course that he was eligible in that month). Not so for assisted living Medicaid. Approval is not retroactive.
As an elder law attorney, our focus with clients is on the financial requirements of Medicaid. I always, however, remind clients that we canât forget about the medical requirement. The applicant must meet the test of medical necessity for nursing home level care as determined by a Medicaid nurse who visits the applicant. In New Jersey, this is true even in the case of assisted living. It bears repeating. The assisted living Medicaid applicant must be certified as needing nursing home level care. Fail that test and the asset and income levels are irrelevant.
So, if Dad canât get Medicaid, what then? If he canât pay the bill he generally wonât be able to stay in the assisted living facility unless the family pays for his care. Not a great result but one the family could have avoided. Before he entered the facility a plan should have been put in place to cover the possibility that he could run out of money. In some cases that may involve moving assets to a trust, determining what public benefits he can or cannot receive and when, (such as VA Aid and Attendance benefits) or negotiating a contractual modification with the facility before initial entry. It may mean choosing a different, less expensive, facility or living arrangement. It all depends on oneâs particular situation.
The mistake that Dad and his family made is in not looking far enough down the road and failing to sit down with someone knowledgeable about the various issues and pitfalls, such as an elder law attorney. The lesson to be learned is that you canât wait until the money runs out to then answer the question "What do I do now?"