Is It a Good Idea to Bring Your Parent Home from the Nursing Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

With the coronavirus pandemic hitting nursing homes and assisted living facilities especially hard, families are wondering whether they should bring their parents or other loved ones home. It is a tough decision with no easy answers.

The number of coronavirus cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country continues to grow. A Washington state nursing home was one of the first clusters of coronavirus reported in the United States, with at least 37 deaths associated with the facility.  NBC news reported on April 16 that coronavirus deaths in long-term care facilities across 29 states had soared to 5,670.  “In New Jersey,” NBC added, “the virus has spread to more than 95 percent of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities, according to state health officials.”

In an effort to contain the virus’s spread, most long-term care facilities are limiting or excluding outside visitors, making it hard to check on loved ones. Social activities within the facility may also be cancelled, leading to social isolation for residents. In addition, long-term care facilities face staffing shortages even in the best of times. With the virus affecting staff as well as residents, facilities are having trouble providing needed care. Assisted living facilities, which are not heavily regulated, may have greater trouble containing the virus than nursing homes because their staff is not necessarily medically trained.

With this in mind, many families are considering bringing their loved ones home. A Harvard epidemiologist is warning that nursing homes are not the best place to house the vulnerable elderly at this time. And a local judge in Dallas has recommended that families remove their loved ones from infected facilities. Before taking this extreme step, however, you need to consider the following questions:

  • Is your family able to provide the care that your loved one needs? Some patients require help with eating, dressing, medication, and going to the bathroom. You need to consider whether you can adequately provide that care at home. In addition to your loved one’s practical needs, you need to think about your physical and emotional stamina. Also, is your house set up to safely accommodate your family member? Are there a lot of stairs? Does the bathroom have rails? If your loved one has dementia, there may be other considerations to take into account.
  • How well can you prevent infection? Will you be better able to prevent infection than a nursing home? If your entire household is homebound, you may be in a good position to prevent bringing home the virus. However, if one or more members of your household is working outside of the home, you will have to take extra precautions to make sure you don’t bring the virus to your loved one. Are you taking the necessary precautions to keep your house and yourself disinfected?
  • Will the resident be allowed to return to the facility when the threat of the virus has abated? If you take your family member out of the nursing home or assisted living facility, the facility may not let your family member back in right away. You should check with the facility to determine if your loved one will be able to return.

Bringing a family member home is a hard decision and it depends on the individual circumstances of each family. For more on the considerations involved, click here and here.

 

How Your Stimulus Check Affects Medicaid Eligibility

The coronavirus relief bill includes a direct payment to most Americans, but this has Medicaid recipients wondering how the payment will affect them. Because the payment is not income, it should not count against a Medicaid recipient’s eligibility.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides a one-time direct payment of $1,200 to individuals earning less than $75,000 per year ($150,000 for couples who file jointly), including Social Security beneficiaries. Individuals earning up to $99,000 ($198,000 for joint filers) will receive smaller stimulus checks. Payments are based on either 2018 or 2019 tax returns.

The basic Medicaid rule for nursing home residents is that they must pay all of their income, minus certain deductions, to the nursing home. If the stimulus payment were considered income, it would likely have to go straight to the nursing home. Since in most states Medicaid recipients cannot have more than $2,000 in assets, there was also concern that the stimulus payments could put many recipients over the asset limit.

In a blog post, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) has clarified that the SSA will not consider stimulus payments as income for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) recipients, and the payments will be excluded from resources for 12 months. Because state Medicaid programs cannot impose eligibility requirements that are stricter than SSI requirements, the payments should not affect Medicaid eligibility.

 

Coronavirus Relief Funds Paid to Deceased Americans Must Be Returned

The federal coronavirus relief bill has sent direct emergency payments to some 150 million Americans in the wake of the pandemic. Among the recipients are possibly millions of deceased individuals, raising questions about what their survivors should do with the money. After weeks of silence, the IRS has finally confirmed that the money should be returned and explained how to do it.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law March 27, 2020, included one-time payments of up to $1,200 to millions of eligible individuals, based on their income. To determine who was eligible, the IRS looked at 2018 and 2019 tax returns, without first cross-checking with the Social Security Administration’s master file of U.S. deaths, which apparently would have taken weeks.

As a result, some individuals who passed away after filing 2018 or 2019 taxes have been receiving relief payments, causing confusion for their families. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.8 million people died in 2018, which means the IRS potentially could have sent out millions of checks to deceased individuals. Although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in an interview that the money had to be returned, the IRS was slow to explain how exactly to go about doing that. 

The IRS has now issued guidance, clarifying that the money must be returned. According to the agency, the full amount of the payment sent to a deceased individual should be returned unless there is a surviving spouse. In that case, only the deceased spouse’s portion should be returned. Checks should be voided and returned by mail to the IRS. If a family member cashed a check or the money was received via direct deposit, the recipient of the funds should send the funds back via a personal check or money order. 

Whether you have to return the money is another question. “There’s no legal interpretation,” Nina Olson, a former IRS official and current executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights, told The Wealth Advisor.  “I don’t know how they’re basing their decision” to request the money be returned.  Olson said it is “unlikely” the IRS would sue taxpayers for the erroneously awarded stimulus money.

For further instructions on how to return the payment, click here.  

Protecting Your Estate from Nursing Home Costs:

Medicaid eligibility for nursing home costs, Trusts, risks of gifting to children and understanding Medicaid’s gift transfer rule. Presentation by Michael J. Millonig, Attorney At Law, Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation, Ohio State Bar Association Board Certified Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Specialist. Time & Place: Miamisburg Community Center, 305 East Central Avenue, Miamisburg, OH on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 @ 10:00 AM to 11:30 PM. Please call for reservations 866-8999

The Trump Administration Allows States to Choose Medicaid Block Grants

The Trump administration has unveiled a plan to allow states the option to cap Medicaid spending using block grants. While this change does not directly affect nursing home residents on Medicaid and is billed as a way to improve state flexibility in running Medicaid programs, it could result in significant service cuts. 

Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that functions as an open-ended entitlement program, meaning it does not include any pre-set funding limits. Each state operates its own Medicaid system, but this system must conform to federal guidelines in order for the state to receive federal money, which pays for about half the state's Medicaid costs. The state picks up the rest of the tab.

Announced on January 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) plan, dubbed “Healthy Adult Opportunity,” would allow states to apply for block grant funding instead of receiving unlimited matching funds. States that choose to enter such an arrangement would receive a pre-set amount of money in exchange for increased flexibility in how they administer their programs. 

The new funding option applies mainly to healthy adults under 65 who are covered under Medicaid expansion. People needing long-term care and individuals who are 65 and over would not be included in a potential state block-grant project along with children and individuals with disabilities. States also cannot block grant services that are required under the Medicaid statute, such as emergency and hospital services. 

While long-term care beneficiaries may not be directly affected by this new funding structure, there could be an increase in costs to other Medicaid beneficiaries. States that choose block grant funding can increase prescription drug costs or change which prescription drugs are covered. Medicaid traditionally covers all federal-approved drugs, but the new plan allows states to cover just one drug per class. States can also increase co-pays or cut non-emergency services. If enrollment in Medicaid dramatically increases due to a health crisis or a recession, states that received a pre-set amount of funding may not have enough money to cover everyone, resulting in additional cuts to services. 

Opponents of the block grant concept contend it is illegal because only Congress can make such program changes, and litigation against the proposal is almost certain. In addition, it is unlikely that a state could get a waiver before 2021, when there may be a new federal administration.

For more information about the new plan, click here and here.

How Secure Is Social Security?

For years people have been worried about Social Security’s future, but what is the actual outlook? According to the federal government, unless Congress acts to intervene, Social Security shortfalls are expected beginning in 2035.   

Social Security retirement benefits are financed primarily through dedicated payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers, with employees and employers splitting the tax equally. Employers pay 6.2 percent of an employee's income into the Social Security system, and the employee kicks in the same. Self-employed individuals pay the entire 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax. This money is put into a trust fund that is used to pay retiree benefits. 

The trustees of the Social Security trust fund have reported that if Congress doesn’t take action, the fund’s balance will reach zero in 2035. This is because more people are retiring than are working, so the program is paying out more in benefits than it is taking in. Additionally, seniors are living longer, so they receive benefits for a longer period of time. 

Once the fund runs out of money, it does not mean that benefits stop altogether. Instead, retirees’ benefits would be cut. According to the trustees’ projections, the fund’s income would be sufficient to pay retirees 77 percent of their total benefit. 

Congress can act to shore up Social Security before this happens. Some ideas include eliminating the cap on benefits. Right now, workers only pay Social Security tax on the first $137,700 of income (in 2020). That amount can be increased, so that higher-earning workers pay more in taxes. The Social Security tax or the retirement age could also be increased.

Social Security is immensely popular and lawmakers are unlikely to allow steep benefit cuts to take place. The last time the program was in financial trouble and received a major overhaul was in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan and congressional Democrats struck a deal to increase taxes and gradually raise the retirement age from 65 to 67.

For more information about a the potential Social Security shortfall, click here and here

Feds Release 2020 Guidelines Used to Protect the Spouses of Medicaid Applicants

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the 2020 federal guidelines for how much money the spouses of institutionalized Medicaid recipients may keep, as well as related Medicaid figures.

In 2020, the spouse of a Medicaid recipient living in a nursing home (called the “community spouse”) may keep as much as $128,640 without jeopardizing the Medicaid eligibility of the spouse who is receiving long-term care. Known as the community spouse resource allowance or CSRA, this is the most that a state may allow a community spouse to retain without a hearing or a court order. While some states set a lower maximum, the least that a state may allow a community spouse to retain in 2020 will be $25,728.

Meanwhile, the maximum monthly maintenance needs allowance (MMMNA) for 2020 will be $3,216. This is the most in monthly income that a community spouse is allowed to have if her own income is not enough to live on and she must take some or all of the institutionalized spouse’s income. The minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance for the lower 48 states remains $2,113.75 ($2,641.25 for Alaska and $2,432.50 for Hawaii) until July 1, 2020.

In determining how much income a particular community spouse is allowed to retain, states must abide by this upper and lower range. Bear in mind that these figures apply only if the community spouse needs to take income from the institutionalized spouse. According to Medicaid law, the community spouse may keep all her own income, even if it exceeds the maximum monthly maintenance needs allowance.

The new spousal impoverishment numbers (except for the minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance) take effect on January 1, 2020.

For a more complete explanation of the community spouse resource allowance and the monthly maintenance needs allowance, click here.

Home Equity Limits:

In 2020, a Medicaid applicant’s principal residence will not be counted as an asset by Medicaid if the applicant’s equity interest in the home is less than $595,000, with the states having the option of raising this limit to $893,000.

For more on Medicaid’s home equity limit, click here.

 

Tips on Creating an Estate Plan that Benefits a Child with Special Needs

Parents want their children to be taken care of after they die. But children with disabilities have increased financial and care needs, so ensuring their long-term welfare can be tricky. Proper planning by parents is necessary to benefit the child with a disability, including an adult child, as well as assist any siblings who may be left with the caretaking responsibility.

Special Needs Trusts
The best and most comprehensive option to protect a loved one is to set up a special needs trust (also called a supplemental needs trust). These trusts allow beneficiaries to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose their eligibility for certain government programs, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiaries in determining their eligibility for public benefits.

There are three main types of special needs trusts:

  • A first-party trust is designed to hold a beneficiary’s own assets. While the beneficiary is living, the funds in the trust are used for the beneficiary’s benefit, and when the beneficiary dies, any assets remaining in the trust are used to reimburse the government for the cost of medical care. These trusts are especially useful for beneficiaries who are receiving Medicaid, SSI or other needs-based benefits and come into large amounts of money, because the trust allows the beneficiaries to retain their benefits while still being able to use their own funds when necessary.
  • The third-party special needs trust is most often used by parents and other family members to assist a person with special needs. These trusts can hold any kind of asset imaginable belonging to the family member or other individual, including a house, stocks and bonds, and other types of investments. The third-party trust functions like a first-party special needs trust in that the assets held in the trust do not affect a beneficiary’s access to benefits and the funds can be used to pay for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs beyond those covered by government benefits. But a third-party special needs trust does not contain the “payback” provision found in first-party trusts. This means that when the beneficiary with special needs dies, any funds remaining in the trust can pass to other family members, or to charity, without having to be used to reimburse the government.
  • A pooled trust is an alternative to the first-party special needs trust.  Essentially, a charity sets up these trusts that allow beneficiaries to pool their resources with those of other trust beneficiaries for investment purposes, while still maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs. When the beneficiary dies, the funds remaining in the account reimburse the government for care, but a portion also goes towards the non-profit organization responsible for managing the trust.

Life Insurance
Not everyone has a large chunk of money that can be left to a special needs trust, so life insurance can be an essential tool. If you’ve established a special needs trust, a life insurance policy can pay directly into it, and it does not have to go through probate or be subject to estate tax. Be sure to review the beneficiary designation to make sure it names the trust, not the child. You should make sure you have enough insurance to pay for your child’s care long after you are gone. Without proper funding, the burden of care may fall on siblings or other family members. Using a life insurance policy will also guarantee future funding for the trust while keeping the parents’ estate intact for other family members. When looking for life insurance, consider a second-to-die policy. This type of policy only pays out after the second parent dies, and it has the benefit of lower premiums than regular life insurance policies.

ABLE Account
An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account allows people with disabilities who became disabled before they turned 26 to set aside up to $15,000 a year in tax-free savings accounts without affecting their eligibility for government benefits. This money can come from the individual with the disability or anyone else who may wish to give him money.

Created by Congress in 2014 and modeled on 529 savings plans for higher education, these accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses of the account beneficiary, such as the costs of treating the disability or for education, housing and health care, among other things. ABLE account programs have been rolling out on a state-by-state basis, but even if your state does not yet have its own program, many state programs allow out-of-state beneficiaries to open accounts. (For a directory of state programs, click here.)

Although it may be easy to set up an ABLE account, there are many hidden pitfalls associated with spending the funds in the accounts, both for the beneficiary and for her family members. In addition, ABLE accounts cannot hold more than $100,000 without jeopardizing government benefits like Medicaid and SSI. If there are funds remaining in an ABLE account upon the death of the account beneficiary, they must be first used to reimburse the government for Medicaid benefits received by the beneficiary, and then the remaining funds will have to pass through probate in order to be transferred to the beneficiary’s heirs.

Get Help With Your Plan
However you decide to provide for a child with special needs, proper planning is essential. Talk to your attorney to determine the best plan for your family. To find a directory of members of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, visit https://specialneedsanswers.com/USA-special-needs-planners.

How to Get Good Hospice Care: Hard-Won Advice from the Pennsylvania Nurse Prosecuted for Aiding Her Father’s Death

Barbara Mancini, RN, MSN

In February 2013, Barbara Mancini was arrested in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and charged with aiding the attempted suicide of her dying 93-year-old father, Joseph Yourshaw. Ms. Mancini, a registered nurse in Philadelphia, had handed him his prescribed morphine at his request. After Mr. Yourshaw took the morphine, his hospice nurse called 911. The hospice nurse and the police ignored Mr. Yourshaw’s written advance directives about the kind of care he wanted at the end of his life, and he was hospitalized and treated in defiance of his wishes.  He died at a hospital four days later.

Ms. Mancini’s prosecution lasted a year, during which the case garnered national attention and was roundly criticized in the media. The charges against Ms. Mancini were finally dismissed when a judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to send the case to jurors.

In the years since, Ms. Mancini has become a vocal advocate for improved end-of-life care.  She believes that one of the main reasons for the ordeal that her father had to endure in his final days was the failure of his hospice provider to deliver the care he was entitled to.

In a podcast conversation with ElderLawAnswers, Ms. Mancini explains how families can advocate for good hospice care for their loved ones and avoid the nightmare that she and her father endured. As she says in the podcast, “My biggest regret is that I didn’t do more to research hospice care. . . . Hospice is a vital end-of-life care option. The problem is that hospices vary greatly in the quality of care that they provide.”

Medicare’s hospice benefit covers any care that is reasonable and necessary for easing the course of a terminal illness. Among the crucial requirements hospices must follow are that a patient has a right to receive effective pain management and symptom control, and that the hospice must provide care that optimizes comfort and dignity, with the patient’s needs and goals as the top priority.

Many people are satisfied with their hospice care. But information has come to light of problems with some hospice providers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a disturbing 41-page report in 2018, finding that hospices do not always provide needed services to beneficiaries and sometimes provide poor quality care. A more recent OIG report highlights hospice deficiencies that pose risks to Medicare beneficiaries.

These revelations underline the importance of carefully selecting a hospice provider. Ms. Mancini suggests asking for recommendations from friends and family members as well as professionals. But she also strongly advises doing your own research to make sure that you are picking the right provider, and she offers a list of questions to ask when interviewing a hospice:

  • Is staff available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
  • How do you ensure that patients obtain their desired level of comfort?
  • Who will direct the hospice patient’s care?
  • What education is provided for the patient and caregivers?
  • Will you ever override a patient’s advance directive? Under what circumstances?
  • How many patient and caregiver complaints were received in the last year? How were they resolved?
  • How many patients and caregivers have terminated services? What are the reasons?
  • Is the hospice concerned about opiate addiction in its patients? (“If the answer is yes, run, don’t walk, away from that hospice,” Ms. Mancini counsels.)

The best end-of-life care is based on the individual patient’s values and wishes. For this reason, Ms. Mancini stresses the importance of advance directives, so the patient’s wishes are in writing. She also believes in the importance of individuals being well-informed about the rights of the patient and the responsibilities of hospice providers.

To listen to the full podcast episode, click here.  This is Part 2 of a two-part interview with Ms. Mancini.  For Part 1, in which Ms. Mancini recounts the events that led to her prosecution for her father’s death, click here.

For more on hospice care, click here and here.

For more on end-of-life decision making, click here.

 

Home Care Costs Rise Sharply in Annual Long-Term Care Cost Survey

When it comes to long-term care costs, the charges for home care are now rising faster than those for nursing home care, according to Genworth's 2019 Cost of Care survey. In the past year, the median annual cost for home health aides rose 4.55 percent to $52,624, while the median cost of a private nursing home room rose only 1.82 percent to $102,200.

Genworth reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $90,155, up 0.96 percent from 2018, and the median cost of assisted living facilities rose 1.28 percent, to $4,051 a month. But home care services had sharper increases. The national median annual rate for the services of a home health aide rose from $22 to $23 an hour, and the cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, rose from $72 to $75 a day, up 4.17 percent annually.

Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care by far, with the median annual cost of a private nursing home room totaling $362,628. Oklahoma again was found to be the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of a private room of $67,525.

The 2019 survey, conducted by CareScout for the sixteenth straight year, was based on responses from more than 15,178 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers.  Survey respondents were contacted by phone during May and June 2019.

As the survey indicates, long-term care is growing ever more expensive. Contact your elder law attorney to learn how you can protect some or all of your family's assets from being swallowed up by these rising costs.

For more on Genworth’s 2019 Cost of Care Survey, including costs for your state, click here.