Elder penalized for wages paid to family caregiver, due to insufficient evidence

When a person applies for Medicaid to pay for home care or nursing home care, a penalty will be imposed if assets were given away during the preceding five year “look-back” period. There are numerous regulations in federal and state law  concerning “uncompensated transfers,” which are gifts.  A “gift” is distinguished by law from a “payment for goods and services at fair market value.” In general, any transfer of money from a Medicaid applicant to their family members during the look-back period will be suspected to be a gift unless there is credible proof that it was payment for something. For example, the child may be employed by the parent, or the child may have sold something to the parent. The applicant must show that the payment was not a gift.

In situations where the elder is paying their family member on an ongoing basis to provide home care services, the proofs become very important, so as to prove that this is wages and not a “gift.”  Greater scrutiny is given to those situations than to the situation where a non-family member is the paid Aide. Extensive evidence is needed to satisfy the agency that the work was actually done, that there was specified terms of employment, and that the wage was consistent with prevailing wages (i.e. not a wage of $70 an hour for work which is normally paid for at $15 an hour). A written contract isn’t explicitly required, but a recent case strongly suggests that it is needed.

Suppose, though, that the child is being paid now for caregiving services that were allegedly provided in the past? A payment made after the fact to a family member for alleged caregiving services is presumed to be a gift, if services were performed for free before the payment was made and there was no pre-existing written contract spelling it all out.  For such situations, the burden of proof is on the applicant to produce “credible documentary evidence preexisting the delivery of the care or services indicating the type and terms of compensation,” as well as proof that the wage was at “prevailing rates for similar care or services in the community.”  N.J.A.C. 10:71-4.10(b)6.ii.

The recent decision in E.B. vs. DMAHS  illustrates the common problem all too well. The decision is not approved for publication, which means it is non-precedential and is limited to its facts and the parties in the case.

E.B. moved into her daughter’s home, and the daughter began providing some  caregiving services when she was not at her job. After two years,  the daughter quit her job and became the full-time aide. The absence of income began to create a hardship for her. She was the Agent under Power of Attorney for her mother. She did some research about prevailing wage for this kind of work, and then using her mother’s funds,  she began to pay herself $10 per hour for 40 hours a week of home care companionship services plus $25 per week for the two-and-a-half hours she claimed she spent each week to shop for petitioner’s food, medication, and toiletries, “for a total of  $425 per week from April 2011 to May 2013, when petitioner entered the nursing home. J.W. did not keep a ledger of the services she provided and the days and hours she performed them. J.W. claimed that, when lucid, her mother understood and agreed to J.W. paying herself from petitioner’s funds to compensate J.W. for her services.”

When E.B.  applied for Medicaid to pay for her care, she was penalized for the $69,211.90 she had paid her daughter. (note that this amount divided by $425 is just over 36 months, so part of the payment must have reflected post-facto payment for work previously done). After a hearing with testimony and other evidence at the Office of Administrative Law, the penalty was upheld by the Division (DMAHS), and this appeal followed. The Appellate Court upheld the penalty.

The Administrative Law Judge found that (1) there was insufficient proof of the actual tasks performed, (2) there was insufficient proof that  rate selected was prevailing wage, and (3) there was no pre-existing written contract. The Judge held it against her that she began receiving wages when it was “foreseeable that [petitioner’s] advanced age and deteriorating condition would require intensive care and the possibility of entering a nursing care facility.”  This is a completely irrelevant consideration, as a person receiving care in the home would otherwise have to BE in the nursing home!!  The Director of Medicaid affirmed those conclusions.

The primary problem for E.B. was that the Medicaid Agency was not satisfied with the proofs provided.  The Appellate Court emphasized that there was no written agreement specifying terms of employment, and there were no records showing exactly what work was done, when and how. However, the Court was harsh, criticizing the daughter for choosing to be the caregiver rather than hiring somebody outside the family. I find this criticism deeply disturbing and unfair. National and state policy encourages people to take care of their family members, and in fact, the Medicaid home care program is only part time because it is presumed that there is someone available to fill in the gaps. Further, the Court did not distinguish between the payments for ongoing work and the payment for work previously done.  The Court found that “Petitioner did not rebut this presumption. She did not provide the requisite “convincing evidence” the asset was transferred exclusively for some purpose other than to establish eligibility. First, J.W. did not show why she could not have paid a competent professional ten dollars per hour to take care of her mother, which would have freed her up to return to work. As a former claims adjuster, presumably J.W. was capable of earning more than ten dollars per hour and, thus, would have been in a better position to address her budget needs. Further, while a third party may not have been a relative, that does not mean a competent professional caretaker could not have been located to meet petitioner’s needs.amount of proof that this was payment of wages for work that was actually done.”

The lesson here is that it is still perfectly legal for children to be employed by their parents to provide senior care in the home. However, the demands of the Medicaid program for elaborate proofs to disprove the notion that a payment was a gift require the applicant to prepare a strong paper trail coupled with  enough corroborating formal evidence to satisfy a state auditor. Informal verbal arrangements will not be sufficient. Assembling proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the safest approach to take.

Call for advice about home care plans, employment contracts, Medicaid applications and appeals …. 732-382-6070

CMS confirms that transfer penalty for Medicaid home care applicants starts to run at time of application

Followers of this blog know that when a person applies for Medicaid under the New Jersey MLTSS program or other state programs that pay for nursing homes, assisted living or home health care services, there is a 5-year look-back that is done by the agency to determine if a transfer penalty should be imposed for gifts made during the 5 years preceding the application. The penalty is a period of time in which the State won’t pay for the care. The greater the amount that was gifted, the longer the penalty period.

There has been a problem for years that was inadvertently created when the Medicaid law was amended by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (“the DRA”). The problem was caused by an interpretive guidance memo called State Medicaid Director Letter (SMDL #06-018) published on July 27, 2006 by CMS. The DRA itself specified that the start date of the penalty was to be “the later of (1) the month during or after which a transfer is made or (2) the date on which the individual is eligible for medical assistance under the State plan and would otherwise be receiving institutional level care services.” See Secn. 1917(c)(1)(D) of the Act. However, the 2006 explanatory SMDL stated that the start date was “…the date on which the individual is eligible for Medicaid and is receiving institutional level of care services.” (emphasis added). The problem was obvious — it created a catch-22 in which the penalty wouldn’t start to run until the individual was receiving services, yet no services could be provided until a penalty period had ended! Also, the memo was at odds with prior positions that applied resource rules and transfer penalty rules uniformly to people applying for Medicaid in different settings.

Well it only took 12 years, but the good news is that CMS has just published SMD # 18-004 which clarifies the point once and for all: the start date for applicants for home and community services is the date on which they’d be receiving services were it not for the penalty period. Here it is: CMS SMD # 18-004

Asset protection is feasible even when a person is right on the verge of applying for Medicaid. Houses and other assets can be protected with proper senior care planning. Call us first, to advise you and prepare your Medicaid application…. 732-382-6070

There’s no “income cap” anymore for Medicaid long term benefits

When I first started filing Medicaid applications for my clients back in 1995, a person who needed long-term care services in the home or assisted living but had run out of money could not even apply for Medicaid if their gross monthly income was higher than the “income cap.” Of course, the income cap was well below the amount that was needed to pay for care, which meant that a lot of people couldn’t receive necessary services. Basically it meant that many people who would have done well in a community environment with a home health aide and other support ended up moving into a nursing home, because that was the only setting where Medicaid would pay for them. Or they had to do without care or cobble together a plan in which family members took care of them.

Finally, in 2014 when the State’s Comprehensive Medicaid Waiver went into effect, the income cap was eliminated as a bar to receipt of community & assisted living services. There is a special procedure that the applicant has to use, because the income has to be funneled through a structure called a Qualified Income Trust (QIT), but at least the person can now apply for Medicaid benefits. You can read more about QIT’s in our earlier blogs.

We continue to meet people who haven’t heard this good news. If your family is struggling with how to arrange and pay for long term care, call us for legal advice regarding Medicaid eligibility that fits your specific situation.

For personalized advice about a Medicaid plan call … 732-382-6070

Medicaid annuity planning is alive and well in NJ

When a person applies for Medicaid under the NJ MLTSS program after having made gift transfers during the most recent 5 years, there will likely be a penalty period in which Medicaid will not pay for the care that this person needs (unless the transfers were exempt, such as transfers to a spouse or disabled child). This transfer penalty is mandated by federal law, and the greater the amount that was transferred, the longer the transfer penalty will be. If an applicant addresses this issue before the end of his spend-down period, there may be opportunities to protect the applicant by using some of the spend-down funds to purchase an annuity contract that can provide the income needed to pay for care during the penalty period.

The type of annuities that fit the bill are highly restricted and are not designed to maximize the rate of return the way conventional annuities might be. The reason that the technique works is because under federal and state Medicaid law, a distinction is made between “income” and “resources.” Resources must be reduced to a certain level before the person can even apply for benefits. Income, on the other hand, is usually received on a monthly basis and is turned over to the facility as a contribution towards the cost of care (with certain deductions). For the annuity plan to work, the contract cannot be countable as a “resource” as defined by Medicaid law. We had successfully litigated an IRA annuity case with the NJ Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (DMAHS) in 2009-10 (the P.K. case) PK FAD  A few years later, after several cases were decided in out of state venues,Lopes 2nd Cir ; Carlini we successfully litigated a non-IRA annuity case against DMAHS in 2013 (the M.W. case; M.W. FAD 1-28-140001 M.W. Initial ALJ decision ) leading to confirmation that if properly structured, an annuity effectively transforms countable resources into an irrevocable stream of income. If properly done, this technique can provide protection for the Medicaid applicant as well as his/her community spouse, and can also help to assure that there is a way to pay for care during an anticipated Medicaid penalty period.

Seniors who are planning for their care have many tools in their toolbox; the question is always which tools to use and how to get the results that the senior needs.

Call us to discuss a Medicaid spend-down plan that suits your circumstances … 732-382-6070

For Qualified Income Trusts, Not All Bank Accounts Are Created Equal

Medicaid Long Term Services and Supports (MLTSS) in New Jersey pays for nursing home care for people with alzheimers disease, catastrophic disabilities and other serious difficulties with self care. The program requires any applicant with more than $2205 (three times the SSI amount–new for 2017) of gross income to make a Qualified Income Trust.  Our office assists applicants with this process all the time.  After the Trust document is completed, we usually send the trustee to the applicant’s bank to set up a QIT bank account.  But things can get hairy here.  Most people, reasonably, want to open bank accounts that avoid fees and penalties.  However, QIT accounts are not most accounts.  They are for the applicant’s gross regular monthly income ONLY, and the income is supposed to go into the account and leave the account every month.  Medicaid allows up to $20 per month in fees as a deduction from the applicant’s income; trustees should therefore pick the checking account product with reasonable fees but no minimum deposit.  If the account is set up with $0 in it, even if that costs a little money, that’s good; the assigned income will go in and fund the trust account in the month of the application date sought–this is what caseworkers are looking for initially.  Some banks will waive even these costs if you show proof of a regular direct deposit.

Unfortunately, many applicants’ Medicaid eligibility has been tripped up by technical processes related to Qualified Income Trusts since they began in December of 2014.  To do better, we all need to up our game and learn exactly what the caseworkers want before they ask.  Come talk to us about this and your other Medicaid questions.  We’re here to help.

Call us for Medicaid applications and senior care planning … 732-382-6070