It is a shocking experience when a husband or wife first learns that his or her spouse must be admitted to a facility for long-term care. Often the spouse living outside of the facility in the community is terrified about the possibility of financial ruin. With the average monthly cost of care in a nursing home in Connecticut at $11,581, it would not take long to deplete the resources of most families.
To better understand the difficulties that arise in these situations, one must become familiar with a few terms. “Medicaid” is the medical welfare benefit created by federal law and administered by individual states to those who qualify. Medicaid is referred to as “Title XIX” because the Medicaid statute can be found in Title XIX of the Social Security Act. The “Institutionalized Spouse” resides in the nursing home. [There are examples of Institutionalized Spouses who do not reside in nursing homes, but those examples are outside the focus of this article.] The “Community Spouse” lives outside of the facility in the community.
Once all of the exempt assets (house, car, personal items) are removed from consideration, what is left are non-exempt assets. In general, the Community Spouse’s Protected Amount is equal to one-half of the total value of the couple’s non-exempt assets, with a minimum of $23,449 and a maximum of $117,240. For example, the Minimum Community Spouse Protected Amount is $23,449. Therefore, if the combined assets of the couple were $25,000, the Community Spouse’s share would be $23,449 rather than $12,500.
Our own State Representative Catherine F. Abercrombie, House Chair of the Human Services Committee, is well aware that the Minimum Community Spouse Protected Amount is far too low. She has introduced HB5324, a bill which would raise the Minimum Community Spouse Protected Amount from $23,449 to $50,000. Passage of this bill would mean that if a spouse is admitted to a facility for long term care, a minimum of $50,000 belonging to the couple would be protected for the benefit of the Community Spouse.
If HB5324 were to become the law of our state, the plight of Community Spouses would improve significantly. Allowing Community Spouses to keep more of their own assets would enhance their independence and increase the likelihood that they could afford to remain in their own homes. Passing this bill is the decent and humane thing to do. Protecting our citizens at a time when their spouses are about to enter facilities for long-term care is an obligation of every one of us.
E. Jack Shorr is an attorney in Meriden.