What is long-term care insurance and is it really necessary?

Long-term care insurance covers the risk that you may at some point in your life be placed into a nursing home by covering some or all the expenses associated with nursing home care. It also frequently covers assisted living care or care in your home. Long-term care insurance can be a very valuable tool that can help you avoid depleting your estate in order to pay for nursing home care. Nursing homes greatly vary in cost depending on the quality of the home and the geographic area of the country in which the home is located. At a minimum, you can expect to pay several thousand dollars a month for decent nursing home care, which can rapidly deplete an individual’s savings. The average private pay rate for skilled nursing facilities in California in 2012 is $7,092.00 per month.

What is Medi-Cal or Medi-Cal Planning and what does it involve?

Medi-Cal is a federal program that will pay for nursing home care. In California, Medi-Cal is supplemented and administered by the State of California and is called Medi-Cal.  Medi-Cal is not to be confused with Medicare, which in most cases will not pay for extended nursing home care. Medicare is a program which people pay into during their working years, while Medi-Cal is a needs-based program intended to help impoverished Americans with medical expenses.

Doesn’t Medicare provide coverage for long term care?

Medicare does not provide coverage for long-term care, such as nursing home care. Medicare will pay for up to 100 days of skilled nursing care per illness. A patient must be hospitalized for the illness, and the patient must receive a high level of care in a nursing home that couldn’t be provided at home or on an outpatient basis. After 20 days of nursing home care, there is a large copayment required of the patient for the remainder of the stay.

Medicare will also pay for home health benefits if you are housebound and if a doctor has ordered home health services for you, at least some of which are skilled. Medicare will pay for up to 35 hours of services per week, and patients only have to pay for 20 percent of the cost of medical supplies and equipment.

Is Medi-Cal Planning legal?

Medi-Cal planning is legal. Elder law attorneys work to protect clients’ assets within the bounds of the law. Congress allows citizens to qualify for Medi-Cal after meeting certain requirements, and those requirements could be changed if Congress felt they were being abused. Medi-Cal planning is not any more illegal than planning to avoid taxes.

How long will it take to become eligible for Medi-Cal?

There’s no simple answer as to how long it might take an individual to qualify for Medi-Cal. There are many variables in every situationthat must be taken into consideration and ultimately affect the eligibility timeline, including the state in which you live, whether your application is complete, your assets, income and expenses, any asset transfers you’ve made to individuals or trusts, and more. Before applying for Medi-Cal, you should consult an elder law attorney in your area. The attorney can help you understand both eligibility and the application process, and should be able to give you an estimate of the time frame you can expect.

Can my children take money out of our joint account without affecting my eligibility?

If a child removes money from your joint account, that could be considered a transfer to him. Currently, Medi-Cal has a “look back” period on transfers of assets of 30 months. This means that any gifts or other transfers of assets you made in the 30 months before you applied for Medi-Cal will be assessed in order to determine your eligibility. If you did make transfers assets in the two and one half year period before applying for Medi-Cal, you could be subjected to a penalty. Therefore, if you made a transfer of assets in the past two and one half years, you should not apply for Medi-Cal without consulting an elder law attorney, because the penalties could be severe.  The federal law governing qualification for Medi-Cal (Medi-Cal in California) has changed.  When California is finished implementing the administrative measures needed to administer the program under the new rules, this penalty period or “look back” period will increase to five years or 60 months.  For this reason, if this is planning you are likely to need, it is important to contact an elder law attorney in California sooner rather than later.

What are some criteria to look for when selecting a nursing home?

There are a variety of criteria to consider when selecting a nursing home.

First, how is the nursing home ranked by accreditation agencies or state regulators? Have there been violations or complaints against the nursing home? How does the nursing home rank when compared with other homes in the area?

Another important factor to consider is location. Is the nursing home located in an area that is convenient for family and friends to visit? Would family members be more likely to visit a nursing home located in another area?

Before choosing a nursing home, take a tour and ask for references of family members of current residents. If possible, take the tour at an unscheduled time, so that you know that what you are seeing isn’t staged for your benefit. During the tour, look carefully at the interactions between staff and patients.

Does the staff seem caring and concerned? Do the residents seem content? What is the quality of the food served?

Choosing a nursing home can seem overwhelming at first, but often after visiting a few and evaluating their quality of care, the decision becomes easier.