Upon reading the following article, I decided to write Bill McClellan. The message to Mr. McClellan appears below.
I read your article entitled, “McClellan: Medicaid won’t pay bills for man whose widow had IRA”, and I wanted to pass on the following thoughts:
I am an attorney for the St. Louis County law firm, Purcell & Amen, L.L.C. We focus our practice on Estate Planning and Elder Law. A good portion of our practice these days is actually spent on helping families qualify for government benefits, such as Medicaid. Unfortunately, the story you shared is one we see many times a year.
There is no doubt in my mind that the hospital had the best interests of the family in mind when they helped her fill out the application for Medicaid. The problem with the approach is that it is not the job of that “Medicaid Specialist” to get families such as the one you described on Medicaid. Their goal, as Ms. June Fowler stated “is to assist patients who qualify to receive the help they need”. This is actually a very important distinction that she made. The patient must ALREADY QUALIFY for Medicaid, as is. This specialist will not tell you that going through this arduous application process is not a guarantee that they will be approved. In fact, they don’t give the patients any indication whether or not they will qualify. Many people in the Ward’s situation do not understand that the help they are receiving may not be much help at all.
There are more than a few law firms in the St. Louis area who specialize, as we do, in helping these families qualify for these benefits. Many of those firms, including ours, offer free consultations where we can determine whether or not we can help them. If we see an opportunity to help the family, they would become our clients. Then our duties are to that person and not to the hospital, or nursing home, or even the state. We regularly help families, such as the Ward’s, re-position their assets so that they no longer count against them, or spend-down their assets on “exempt” assets. For example, you mentioned in your article that you can’t spend the money on the funeral, because the person is not living. Instead, they could have bought a pre-paid funeral or earmarked funds for a funeral which would not count against them in the application process.
Stories like the Ward’s are why many of us in the elder law field got started doing Medicaid eligibility. Helping those families that ‘just miss’ the cut-off without any planning. I wish we had a better way to get the word out to families that opportunities exist for planning which may help them avoid disaster in a crisis. More options exist for families that plan at least 5 years ahead of a need because of the Medicaid “look-back” period, but there are still many, many options available to families like the Ward’s when the crisis arrives.
Thanks for the article. Many people do not know about programs like Medicaid (and don’t see any need to explore plans) until a crisis hits close to home.