The Governor has a Medicaid system improvement bill on his desk

If you or any of your colleagues, friends, or family members are in support of improving the system for Medicaid eligibility determinations, you should call the Governor’s Office  of new jersey’s Governor Murphy at 609.292.6000 and request that the Governor sign A4569/S499 into law. pass on this information to people you know who are interested in this issue.

According to BillTrack50, in its Bill Summary, This bill “requires the Commissioner of Human Services to develop an information technology platform for the intake, processing, and tracking of applications for benefits under the Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare programs.” Among other things, “The goals of the system will be: to simplify the applications and eligibility determination processes for both applicants and eligibility determination staff; to standardize application of eligibility policy across the various agencies responsible for eligibility determination; to allow for real-time tracking of the status of applications.”

At our Firm, we prepare and file Medicaid applications for the MLTSS long-term care Medicaid programs in nursing homes, assisted living and community care settings. It’s an incredibly complex process, since five years of transaction records are required, substantial evidence can be required for certain things, it can be challenging to explain transactions that occurred several years prior, and there seem to be many unwritten procedures and policies which vary a bit county by county. There are many legal pitfalls that can occur for an individual client that need particularized attention. Applications are regularly turned down due to insufficient evidence or failure to submit everything that is required. Applicants with alzheimers and other cognitive deterioration may not be able to recall or retrieve the necessary information.

Simplifying the application process would be great. This bill is a step ahead for monitoring and uniformity.

  • Implementation of the bill would bring accountability and uniformity to the Medicaid application system, in-line with the Governor’s goal to create a Fairer NJ. You can’t drive improvement to this process, if you can’t monitor.
  • Federal Government will pay 90% of IT development work and 75% for operations.
  • Bill has unanimous support in both houses
  • Bill is based on the report by the NJHCQI (Health Care Quality Institute), “Medicaid 2.0: Blueprint for the Future” with additional input/amendments/improvements by NJ NAELA (the New Jersey chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys)
  • If you have personal or professional experience which reinforces the need for the implementation of this bill, you should feel free to share it with the Governor’s office.

Call us for legal advice on how to achieve Medicaid eligibility for someone who needs long-term care ……….. 732-382-6070

Trusts can undermine Medicaid eligibility even if they accomplish other goals

A “Trust” is an estate-planning structure that has many different uses and purposes. Fundamentally, to be valid, there needs to be (a) a Trustee — the manager, who is not the owner of the assets; (b) a Beneficiary – the party that the trustee can spend assets on, who is not the owner of the assets, (c) terms and conditions – usually contained in a legal document which could be a Will or could be another document that creates the Trust. Until a Trust receives assets, it is an unfunded trust and may be referred to as a “dry trust.” Some trusts are irrevocable, others are revocable. Sometimes the Trust is assigned its own taxpayer EIN# which is obtained from the IRS. Sometimes the Trustee is also the Beneficiary; other times the assets are placed in Trust as a gift, for benefit of other family members. . Certain trusts are designed to provide “creditor protection” by shielding the assets from those who might be coming after the beneficiary’s creditors. Certain Trusts are designed to preserve the Beneficiary’s eligibility for means-tested disability-related services. Certain trusts give total discretion to the trustee, whereas others place obligations on the Trustee (such as “pay all the income to the beneficiary for 5 years” or “give the beneficiary 1% of the principal every year in January”). How it is written depends on what the purpose is.

The Medicaid program has strict, low financial restrictions for eligibility. As readers of this blog know, a resource is defined as something that the applicant (or his spouse) owns and which can be converted to cash to be used for the applicant’s support and maintenance. Other than a properly-structured  first-party Special Needs Trust, a residence, one car, an irrevocable funeral trust, a burial place and a life insurance policy whose face value is less than $1,500, pretty much anything else that meets this criteria is treated as a  countable “resource.”  There are special regulations concerning when the assets in a Trust are counted as a resource of the individual.

Section 4.11 of the State Medicaid Manual describes the treatment of Trusts. It applies to trusts that were created by an applicant, his or her spouse, or another party who has legal authority to act on their behalf (Guardian, Agent under Power of Attorney, or Court). It does not apply to trusts created by a spouse of the applicant in their Will (but keep in mind, e.g., the requirements of the DeMartino case and the elective share statute). If assets of the individual or their spouse form any part of the Trust and the individual or their spouse are beneficiaries,  100% of the Trust is a countable resource if the Trust is revocable (such as a “Revocable Living Trust” that some people use to “avoid probate”), and if it is an irrevocable trust, the portion of income or principal that could be paid to or for benefit of the individual (or spouse) continues to be counted as income or as a resource. Either way, any of this could adversely affect eligiblity.  A person might be treated as a Beneficiary without even realizing it.

We see many different Trusts in our practice, and we write Trusts when they are useful. I am frequently asked by new elder care clients, “do I need a trust?”  (and even more often, “I heard that I need a Trust so the nursing home doesn’t take it all”). The response of course is, “what do you want to accomplish, who do you want to protect, how’s your health, and what do we have to work with?”

The problems caused when a Trust is deemed to be a “countable resource” can create substantial financial jeopardy for an applicant, particularly because after the Medicaid application is filed, it may be many months before that bad news is received from the agency.  When discussing a trust strategy later in life, it is a good idea to talk with the attorney about the impact of the Trust on Medicaid eligibility as well as its efficacy for whatever other issues are being addressed. Forewarned is forearmed.

Call us for advice on trusts and Medicaid eligibility and for individualized estate planning strategies …. 732-382-6070

Watch out for the Rules of Evidence in Medicaid appeal hearings

The first level of appeal when the State Medicaid Agency issues an adverse decision is called a “Fair Hearing” and takes place at the NJ Office of Administrative law (OAL). The Judge is referred to as an Administrative Law Judge or “ALJ.” That Judge issues an initial decision that is subject to review and final decision by the NJ Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (Medicaid). The burden of proof is on the applicant, and the hearing is conducted generally like a trial — witnesses can be questioned under oath; documents can be introduced in evidence. The formal rules of evidence that govern the New Jersey courts are relaxed somewhat, but there are still requirements to prove each point of the legal case by using some non-hearsay evidence. The following case illustrates what can go wrong when “the i’s aren’t dotted and the T’s aren’t crossed,” as they say.

 B.S. v. Div. of Med. Assistance & Health Servs., was an unsuccessful appeal after an unsuccessful Fair Hearing. The 92-year-old  Petitioner lived in a nursing home and had applied for Medicaid. When her 5 years’ of financial records were submitted for the required “look-back” scrutiny, the county division for social services noticed that there were two large bank withdrawals from her account. The funds had been transferred to her daughter’s account. The daughter was told to provide proof that either (a) all of the transferred money had been actually spent for benefit of the applicant or that (b) the transfer was some kind of purchase at fair market value for goods or services. The requested proof wasn’t supplied and a 224-day “transfer penalty” was imposed. The request for Fair Hearing was then filed.

The OAL has a rule that requires a “residuum” of non-hearsay evidence for each fact to be proven. If the other party won’t stipulate to the fact, then it must be proven through what’s called “competent” evidence – i.e., non-hearsay. Here’s the rule:

1:1-15.5 Hearsay evidence; residuum rule

(a) Subject to the judge’s discretion to exclude evidence under  N.J.A.C. 1:1-15.1(c) or a valid claim of privilege, hearsay evidence shall be admissible in the trial of contested cases. Hearsay evidence which is admitted shall be accorded whatever weight the judge deems appropriate taking into account the nature, character and scope of the evidence, the circumstances of its creation and production, and, generally, its reliability.

(b) Notwithstanding the admissibility of hearsay evidence, some legally competent evidence must exist to support each ultimate finding of fact to an extent sufficient to provide assurances of reliability and to avoid the fact or appearance of arbitrariness.”

Apparently, at the hearing, her evidence was made up of  “unauthenticated bank records” and a power of attorney, ruling that petitioner had failed to submit any competent evidence. The case was scheduled for hearing three times, and neither the Petitioner (nor her attorney) presented any witnesses to testify about what had occurred or to explain any documents that were presented in evidence.  As a result, the ALJ ruled that there was insufficient evidence to show that the transfers were anything other than an outright gift — which causes a penalty under the Medicaid program. The Director affirmed (adopted the decision) and the Appellate Division affirmed.

The burden of proof rests with the applicant in Medicaid cases. Careful detailed preparation is needed to successfully prove a case at an administrative hearing.

Call us for representation on Medicaid applications and appeals of denials …. 732-382-6070