Public Benefits

Through public benefits planning, especially Medi-Cal planning, Schofield Law Group helps their clients plan for the incredible expenses associated with long-term care.  The public benefits rules are complicated and ever-changing.  Especially for senior clients and those with a family member with a disability, Medi-Cal planning is an often-overlooked part of a comprehensive estate plan.

Public Benefits Frequently Asked Questions

QWhat is Medi-Cal?
A. Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid. Medi-Cal helps pay for the medical care of public assistance recipients and certain low income people. It is administered by the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). For the purposes of elder law, Medi-Cal is important because it funds long-term skilled nursing home care for many who could not otherwise afford it. In certain circumstances, it also helps fund in-home care. However, Medi-Cal covers many other forms of medical care for many other people.

QHow is Medi-Cal different than other public programs?
A. California seniors have several public assistance programs available to them. Depending upon the senior’s needs, Social Security, Medicare, veteran’s benefits, and other resources are available. Social Security offers retirement benefits, disability benefits, and supplemental security income (SSI), for example. SSI is different than the retirement benefit people are most familiar with. SSI provides a basic level of income to seniors, the blind and disabled. It is a needs-based program, and the eligibility requirements are complicated. For a questionnaire to help determine what Social Security benefits you might be eligible for, click here.

Unlike Medi-Cal, Medicare is a federal healthcare program providing medical benefits for seniors. Medicare includes funding for doctor visits, procedures and prescription drug programs. Medicare makes only limited payments for skilled nursing care, however, which is why Medi-Cal coverage becomes important in planning for a senior’s future nursing home care.

QWho qualifies for Medi-Cal?
A. Medi-Cal eligibility is determined by income and asset level, but it is a complicated formula that changes from year to year. Generally speaking, an individual applicant may only have $2,000 in non-exempt assets. A person’s residence does not count, so long as the applicant states she has an intention to return home. While it is possible to transfer some assets prior to applying for Medi-Cal, it has to be done very carefully and according to strict guidelines.

Medi-Cal counts all available income when determining eligibility. Medi-Cal calculates the monthly cost of care, called the “Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance” (“MMMNA”). The applicant is required to contribute virtually all of her income toward her care. This contribution is called “Share of Cost.” The difference between the applicant’s Share of Cost contribution and the MMMNA is what Medi-Cal will cover.

QDoes the state have to be paid back when I die?
A. In theory, Medi-Cal is entitled to be paid back for the money it spent for your benefit on skilled nursing care. However, if you do not have any assets when you die, then Medi-Cal has nothing to collect from. The main asset that is at risk for Medi-Cal “recapture” is the recipient’s residence. Medi-Cal is entitled to place a lien on the recipient’s residence after she passes so that it can get paid. There are ways to plan for this, and an attorney can be particularly useful for planning to deal with Medi-Cal recapture liens.

QDoes Medi-Cal cover in-home care?
A. Medi-Cal can cover some in-home care in certain circumstances. The program is called In Home Social Services (“IHSS”), and has stricter eligibility requirements than Medi-Cal. IHSS has been drastically cut back because of California budget crisis.

QWhy do I need an attorney to apply for Medi-Cal?
A. You may not need an attorney to apply for Medi-Cal. When eligibility is clear, the application can be a simple process. Attorneys are useful primarily in the planning process, especially to plan appropriate transfers of assets and to deal with recapture issues. There are a number of non-attorney Medi-Cal planners out there; some are unscrupulous scam artists and more expensive than attorneys. There is a lot of bad advice out there, especially involving trusts and annuities as part of Medi-Cal planning. It can be money well-spent to consult with an attorney familiar with Medi-Cal planning in order to be protected down the line.

Veteran’s Benefits Frequently Asked Questions

QWhat resources are available?
A. The Veterans Medical Benefits Program offers a wide range of health services, including adult day health care, residential care, in home care, and nursing home care. The official VA website provides a wealth of information about the benefits available.

QWhat is Aid and Attendance?
A. Aid and Attendance benefits are available to veterans who saw active duty in certain wars and are of modest means. They are also available to their spouses. The rules for qualifying change a little every year, but using 2009 as an example, a single veteran with less than $19,736 in countable income could qualify for up to $1,645 per month. This is a substantial increase in income, and yet many qualifying veterans and widows do not know that it exists. See the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) fact sheet on Aid and Attendance.

QWhere can I go for more information?
AThe local VA office is a good place to start for an application or instructions.

QWhy do I need an attorney to apply for Veteran’s benefits?
A. You may or may not need an attorney. An attorney may be helpful for asset planning generally, or in order to prepare to apply for the Aid and Attendance benefit, but if the assets of the applicant are small to begin with, this step may not be necessary. Note: it is illegal for someone to charge a Veteran to fill out an application for Aid and Attendance.