Category Archives: MassHealth Denials and Appeals

How Does an Appeal of a MassHealth Fair Hearing Denial into the Court System Work?

by:   Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

If you lose your fair hearing after having received a MassHealth denial, you can file a so-called 30A appeal into Superior Court. You have 30 days from the date of the fair hearing decision to file the action, and can file it either in Suffolk County, where state government is located, or in the county where the MassHealth applicant is domiciled.

The judge in a 30A appeal is only allowed to look at the evidentiary record at the fair hearing. New evidence cannot be introduced at a 30A appeal, so it important not to take any fair hearing lightly. The grounds listed in Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 30A that a judge can use to overturn the fair hearing decision are that it was in excess of statutory authority or jurisdiction of the agency, based upon an error of law, made upon unlawful procedure, unsupported by substantial evidence, arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.

A written transcript of the recorded fair hearing is made available by the MassHealth Board of Hearings to the Superior Court at the expense of the person filing the appeal.

Should You Prepare and File a MassHealth Application on Your Own?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

Many people can file a MassHealth application on their own, but sometimes it makes sense to get help. The more complicated the applicant’s financial situation, the more it makes sense to get help from an independent professional.

For a person who is under age 65 and not in need of nursing home care, MassHealth eligibility is mostly based on the person’s income, so that type of MassHealth application process is usually fairly easy. If the MassHealth applicant is not under age 65, or if long-term care is needed, getting help is often necessary. In many cases, getting the assistance of an elder law attorney can be important.

A MassHealth applicant is limited to $2,000 in countable assets for some programs, and while it may be possible to transfer assets above that amount in order to become eligible, the transfer could make the applicant ineligible for nursing home coverage for 5 years. Thus, elder law advice can be important due to the mishmash of MassHealth programs that have different rules.

Elder law advice can also be important due to confusion about MassHealth rules among facilities and home care agencies. For example, the GAFC program that can help pay for assisted living can be accessed with a 6-month income deductible period, yet many assisted living facilities seem not to know about that possibility.

Submitting a MassHealth application to help cover nursing home costs without elder law advice can often be a bad idea. I often describe the MassHealth application process for nursing home care as “guilty until proven innocent.” MassHealth applications are closely scrutinized, with a lookback period of 5 years on all financial records. Gifts, below-market sales and unexplained financial transactions can cause problems; any unexplained or poorly-explained expenditure can be treated as a disqualifying transfer of assets, delaying MassHealth eligibility at a time when there are no remaining funds to pay for nursing home care. Trusts are often rejected without explanation. The application process can take several weeks or even months, while the MassHealth eligibility worker keeps asking questions and demanding further verifications.

Many elder law attorneys offer assistance with MassHealth applications as part of their services. Going this route can help you deal with difficult eligibility problems that can come up along the way and allow you to get advice on how to obtain MassHealth as quickly as possible. Payment for the elder law advice is often made with funds that would otherwise have been paid to the nursing home, so there is often no net loss to the family, and, in some cases, the elder law attorney can point out exceptions in the MassHealth law that allows assets to be preserved for the MassHealth applicant and the family.

Some nursing homes offer free help with the MassHealth application, or refer families to non-lawyers or companies that offer help for a fee. In those cases, you should not expect that the matter will be handled appropriately in all situations. One of my clients used a company that was referred by the nursing home, and learned that the company saw a problem with the application and overreacted; the company called the nursing home administrator, who then immediately sent out a discharge (i.e., eviction) notice to the nursing home resident who was not in debt and had enough funds to pay for a few months.

What Is a Fair Hearing under MassHealth, and Can You Really Expect It to Be Fair?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

If you apply for MassHealth (i.e., Medicaid in Massachusetts) and receive a denial, you are entitled to an “independent” review of the denial through a scheduled “fair hearing.” You have to file a written request for the fair hearing, and there are strict deadlines for you to file for it, usually within 30 days. There are also strict deadlines for the Board of Hearings to issue a decision on your case. Unfortunately, the time limits in MassHealth regulations are strictly held against you as the appellant, yet the Board of Hearings routinely and callously fails to issue timely decisions.

The deadline under MassHealth regulations for a decision to be rendered is usually 45 days from the time of filing the appeal. I recall having cases during the 2010-2012 time period where it took 4-5 months just for an appeal to be scheduled. Apparently, regulations are meant to be followed by MassHealth applicants, but not by the people involved in running the MassHealth program.

Not only is the fairness lacking in the strict procedures required under MassHealth regulations, but many Massachusetts elder law attorneys feel the deck is stacked against people who appeal MassHealth denials. While the MassHealth lawyers who defend fair hearing decisions in court often make a point of telling the judge about the independence of the Board of Hearings, the fact remains that the hearing officers work for the Office of Medicaid, which runs MassHealth, and their decisions are subject to review by the Director of the Office of Medicaid, who can order a rehearing. (That means you can win your appeal, and the person in charge of MassHealth can decide to overturn your victory.) Does it sound like the hearing officers are truly independent?

Fortunately, unfair decisions rendered by hearing officers can be overturned by the Superior Court in a further appeal commonly known as a 30A, but new evidence usually cannot be added after a fair hearing decision is written by a hearing officer. On appeal, the weight or amount of the evidence that was placed into the fair hearing record can be important. Therefore, if you are appealing a MassHealth denial, you need to place as much evidence as possible into the record to prove your point. You cannot assume that the hearing officer will write a decision that is fair, so you have to prepare for the fair hearing based on the assumption that you may later have to take the case to Superior Court and prove to a judge that the “fair hearing” decision was unfair.

Case of Nina Kaptchuk v. Director of the Office of Medicaid Shows that MassHealth Fair Hearing Appeals Should Not Be Treated Lightly

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

In the 2013 Massachusetts Appeals Court case of Kaptchuk v. Director of Office of Medicaid, a MassHealth denial was upheld. An application for MassHealth benefits for Nina Kaptchuk had been denied due to “disqualifying transfers.” A “fair hearing” had been requested, and the denial was not overturned. A so-called 30A appeal was filed with the Superior Court, and the judge there did not overturn the denial. On this further appeal to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the denial remained in effect.

The Superior Court and the Massachusetts Appeals Court only reviewed the facts presented at the fair hearing to see if the hearing officer analyzed the facts fairly. Unfortunately, new or better facts cannot be presented after a fair hearing. The Massachusetts Appeals Court suggested that the preparation for the fair hearing was inadequate. Transfers to or for the benefit of a disabled person can be treated as non-disqualifying, but the lawyer handling the appeal apparently did not introduce evidence proving that the daughter who received amounts of money from Nina Kaptchuk was mentally ill.

The point that should be taken from this case: Do not treat any fair hearing lightly. Any point you want to make should be proven from every possible angle, and do not presume common sense. Most especially, do not assume that you will get another chance to explain the facts as you see them.

Should an Appeal Be Filed If a Denial for MassHealth Long Term Care Is Received?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

Usually when a MassHealth denial is received, it makes sense to file an appeal within 30 days of the denial date.  To have proof that you appealed timely, it is advisable that the appeal be sent via fax to the Board of Hearings.

In many cases, receiving a MassHealth denial means that the MassHealth eligibility worker requested something (known in MassHealth lingo as a “verification”) and did not receive it on a timely basis.  In those situations, submitting a missing verification during the following 30 days is treated as a new application for MassHealth.  Since a MassHealth application is retroactive for no more than 3-4 months, it is important to determine whether the new application will go back far enough.  If not, an appeal should be filed, and if all of the missing verifications are submitted at an appeal, the original application date will be preserved.

If a denial is received for any reason other than missing verifications, filing an appeal may or may not help the situation.  If there were disqualifying transfers, sometimes an appeal would be futile and a return of the assets to the MassHealth applicant makes more sense.  Sometimes, the denial refers to excess assets and there are financial steps that can be taken to “spend down” the excess assets.

What I have been seeing a lot of lately is a denial that is the result of an overworked MassHealth eligibility worker’s mistake.   This is also a just plain ridiculously stupid MassHealth process now in place, where you send your documents to MassHealth on a timely basis, then MassHealth sends the documents out to be scanned for electronic storage and doesn’t let the eligibility worker know when the documents were received, so the worker issues a denial because the worker doesn’t receive the scanned documents back on time.

When a denial is received and you file an appeal, MassHealth’s own regulations require that most appeals be heard and decided within 45 days.  Unfortunately, at present, it now takes the Board of Hearings 4-5 months just to schedule an appeal.  Nursing homes, which are not being paid during that time, are sometimes filing lawsuits against MassHealth applicants and their families before they even get a chance to have their appeal heard.  Thus, when you receive a MassHealth denial for any reason whatsoever, attaining the services of an elder law attorney within the following 2-3 weeks is now extremely important.  It shouldn’t be that way, but the MassHealth system seems to be out of control at this point.

When Are a MassHealth Applicant’s Intentions Considered in Determining Whether a Disqualifying Transfer Occurred?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

There are many exceptions to disqualifying transfers in federal Medicaid law that the MassHealth program has been required to implement.   If a potential disqualifying does not fit into the categories of permissible transfers, then MassHealth is required to determine what the MassHealth applicant’s intentions were when the transfer occurred.

One exception to a disqualifying transfer occurs when the MassHealth applicant had made the transfer exclusively for a purpose other than obtaining MassHealth eligibility.  This one situation where ignorance of the law can be an excuse for what was done.  Unfortunately, anybody can claim that he/she didn’t know about the law, so hearing officers expect a compelling case to be made, and if there is even a hint of MassHealth planning or knowledge, they can easily rule against the MassHealth applicant.

Another expectation to a disqualifying transfer involves an attempt to receive fair market value or other valuable consideration.

What Is Considered a Disqualifying Transfer When Applying for MassHealth?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

Under federal Medicaid law and MassHealth regulations, the past five (5) years of a MassHealth applicant’s assets are scrutinized to determine whether the applicant has made any disqualifying transfers.  As the term indicates, a disqualifying transfer makes the MassHealth applicant ineligible for MassHealth.

A disqualifying transfer is usually a gift (or something similar to a gift) that the MassHealth applicant made in the previous 5 years.   Any transfer that occurred more than 5 years ago (even just 5 years plus one day ago) is outside the Medicaid lookback period, and cannot be considered a disqualifying transfer.  A disqualifying transfer, however,  is not limited to gifts.  To put it as simply as possible, if the MassHealth applicant had ownership of anything on one day and did not have the same ownership the next day, a disqualifying transfer may have occurred.  Thus, any sale for less than fair market value can be a disqualifying transfer.  Paying a child or other relative for services, or even reimbursing them for expenses, can be treated by MassHealth as a disqualifying transfer.  Unrepaid loans can also be considered disqualifying transfers.

Sometimes the lawyers representing MassHealth make unfair stretches of the law.  For example, should a  bad investment be treated as a disqualifying transfer.  In one case that I handled that took 5 years to win, the MassHealth lawyers saw that a MassHealth’s applicant’s husband had made a risky investment that dropped in value.  Those lawyers attempted to convince a judge that he should have foreseen that the investment would drop in value, and therefore he had essentially made a disqualifying transfer.   Fortunately, a full 5 years after the MassHealth application had initially been filed, a Superior Court judge overturned the decision of a fair hearing officer who had sided with MassHeath’s silly argument.

Applying and Appealing to Receive Retroactive Medicaid Benefits in Massachusetts

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

In Massachusetts, Medicaid coverage of nursing home costs is obtained by filing a MassHealth long-term care application.

Any MassHealth application can be retroactive to the first day of the third month prior to the application. Based on the date that MassHealth is needed, in many cases you must keep the original application alive. If an applicant receives a denial due to missing verifications and mails in missing verifications within thirty (30) days after the denial, that action is treated as a new application, causing a new application date, which affects the maximum time period that MassHealth can be retroactive. A later application date can also cause the date of payments of medical or nursing home bills to become important to whether retroactive MassHealth benefits will be allowed.

For example, suppose Jane applies for MassHealth on December 19, needing coverage as of September 20. Under this application, MassHealth can be retroactive to as early as September 1. Only the original application, however, will obtain the needed retroactivity. If Jane receives a denial on February 5 due to missing verifications and submits one or more of them during February, a new application is deemed to exist, and its maximum retroactive date would be November 1.

The treatment of previously-paid expenses can be affected by the timing of the MassHealth application. Medical and nursing home expenses that are less than ninety (90) days in the past are allowed as part of the spenddown process whenever they are paid, but if those expenses precede the MassHealth application by more than ninety (90) days, then a different rule can apply. If we also suppose in the example in the previous paragraph that Jane sold stock and received the proceeds on December 3 and immediately paid the nursing home at its private pay rate for the September 1-September 20 period, that action would have no impact on the effective retroactive date of MassHealth coverage for the original application. The result would be difficult if the denial of the original application were not appealed. Under a new application, that action could change the maximum retroactive date of the later application to December 3.

There is a MassHealth regulation which allows a successful appeal of a denial to keep the original application alive. If Jane appeals the denial instead of just sending in the missing verifications, a new application would not be deemed to exist, and the original application would be preserved, thereby allowing MassHealth coverage retroactive to the earliest possible date.

When these procedures are not followed, the result can be that the nursing home will not be paid far enough retroactively by MassHealth and the MassHealth applicant will be responsible for the unpaid amount. As a last resort, the only possible way to cover the shortfall could be to make a request to MassHealth that the unpaid nursing home bill be paid over time via deductions from Jane’s monthly income. Although MassHealth would have been required to cover the bill if the appeal process had been correctly followed, there would be no guarantee that MassHealth would help Jane and the nursing home on previously-disallowed nursing home bills.

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