Tag Archives: appeals

Lawyers at the Office of Medicaid Attempt to Mislead Hearing Officers and Judges about Federal Medicaid Trust Law

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

The Office of Medicaid makes a willful, reckless misrepresentation of law to the extent that it suggests that all state trust law is to be ignored in the determination of eligibility for Medicaid benefits for long term care.  Current federal Medicaid law (42 USC §1396p(d)) and Massachusetts MassHealth regulations (130 CMR 520.021-520.024) address the treatment of trusts in the Medicaid arena, and they do not state or even imply that all state trust laws or the common law of trusts are to be ignored.

Under the 1985 changes in federal Medicaid trust law, a door had been left open whereby a provision could be placed in the trust limiting trustee discretion in some circumstances; the 1993 federal Medicaid law at 42 USC 1396p(d)(2)(C) corrected that problem, and specifies four (and only four) aspects of state trust law (often referred to by the Defendant as the “common law of  trusts”) that may be ignored in determining an applicant’s Medicaid eligibility:

“(i) the purposes for which a trust is established,

(ii) whether the trustees have or exercise any discretion under the trust,

(iii) any restrictions on when or whether distributions may be made from the trust, or

(iv) any restrictions on the use of distributions from the trust.”

These 1993 changes in federal Medicaid trust law ended the tactical usage of shifting trustee discretion to obtain Medicaid coverage. The 1985 Congressional intention of authorizing scrutiny of irrevocable trusts under state debtor-creditor laws remained unchanged when the 1993 changes were made, and there have been no further changes in federal Medicaid trust law since that time.

Other than these four exceptions in 42 USC 1396p(d)(2)(C), all Massachusetts trust law applies to an Irrevocable Trust in a MassHealth application.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has already examined Congressional intent in this context, and concluded:  “Congress rigorously dictates what assets shall count and what assets shall not count toward Medicaid eligibility.  State law obviously plays a role in determining ownership, property rights, and similar matters.” Lewis v. Alexander, 685 F.3d 325, 334 (3d Cir. 2012) “[T]here is no reason to believe [Congress] abrogated States’ general laws of trusts.  … After all, Congress did not pass a federal body of trust law, estate law, or property law when enacting Medicaid.  It relied and continues to rely on state laws governing such issues.” Lewis at 343.

The Office of Medicaid continually attempts to mislead hearing officers at MassHealth fair hearings and judges in Superior Court appeals by emphasizing yet decontextualizing the phrase “any circumstances” in the 1993 federal Medicaid trust law, when in fact since 1993 these four circumstances in 42 USC 1396p(d)(2)(C) have been the only “circumstances” addressed by the federal Medicaid trust law wherein state trust law is to be ignored.

Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance for Nursing Home Resident’s Spouse Is Now $1,991.25 until 6/30/2015

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

When one spouse is living in a nursing home and the other spouse is living anywhere else, the spouse who is not living in the nursing home (who is known under MassHealth law as the “community spouse”) is allowed by MassHealth to keep some (or sometimes all) of the nursing home resident’s income through an income allowance known as the Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA).  Every July 1st, this figure changes based on federal poverty level guidelines.  The MMMNA is $1,991.25 from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016.

If certain basic household expenses are more than 30% of the MMMNA, which amounts to $597.38, the community spouse is entitled to keep extra income, known as the Excess Shelter Amount (“ESA”).  Between the MMMNA and the ESA, the community spouse can now be entitled to as keep as much as $2,980.50 of the married couple’s total income.  If even more income is needed, such as where the community spouse is living in an assisted living facility, the community spouse can request a fair hearing and attempt to prove the need for more than $2,980.50 of the married couple’s total income.  In some cases, the community spouse would need more than $2,980.50 due to the costs of an assisted living facility, but would be required at the fair hearing to prove the need to live there.

Utilizing the MMMNA provisions in Medicaid/MassHealth law is always better than purchasing an immediate annuity, since all payments from the annuity are treated as income, and purchasing an annuity ends up reducing the amount of the married couple’s retirement income that the community spouse could otherwise keep.  Unfortunately, due to the asset rules under Medicaid/MassHealth, in many situations the community spouse has no realistic choice but to purchase an immediate annuity with excess assets.

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.

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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