Medicaid Overview

By Paul Nicolosi

Medicaid, also known as medical assistance is a joint federal-state program that provides health insurance coverage to low-income children, seniors and people with disabilities. In addition, it covers care in a nursing home for those who qualify. Medicaid is a state administered program and provides more comprehensive coverage than Medicare, particularly with regard to nursing home care. However, not all nursing homes participate in the Medicaid program. There are no limits on the maximum length of a Medicaid recipient’s stay at a facility.

The Federal government pays roughly one-half of the costs, while the State covers the remainder. In Illinois, the agency that administers Medicaid is the Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA). In the absence of any other public program covering long-term nursing home care, Medicaid has become the default nursing home insurance of the middle class.

While Congress and the federal Health Care Financing Administration set out the main rules under which Medicaid operates, each state runs its own program. As a result, the rules are somewhat different in every state, although the framework is the same throughout the country. The following describes some of the basic rules regarding Medicaid in Illinois.

Resource (Asset) Rules

In order to be eligible for Medicaid benefits in Illinois a nursing home resident may have no more than $2,000 in “countable” assets. While a Medicaid applicant may be eligible even if these assets exceed the limits, the applicant will be required to “spend down” these assets. This means that the cost of care must be paid for by the Medicaid applicant to the extent that the assets exceed the $2,000 limit.

The spouse of a nursing home resident–called the ‘community spouse’– is limited to one half of the couple’s joint assets up to $84,120 (in 2000) in “countable” assets (see Medicaid, Protections for the Healthy Spouse). The $84,120 figure changes each year to reflect inflation. In addition, the community spouse may keep the first $17,400, even if that is more than half of the couple’s assets. These figures change annually and are found in the Department of Human Services policy manual. Basic Medicaid information is also available at [].

All assets are counted against these limits unless the assets fall within the short list of “non countable” assets. These include:

(1) Personal possessions, such as clothing, furniture, and jewelry with an equity value of no more than $2000. However, wedding rings, engagement rings and items required because of an individual’s medical or physical condition are exempt regardless of value.

(2) One motor vehicle if it meets any one of the following criteria: A) If it is necessary for employment B) If it is necessary for transportation for medical treatment of a specific or regular medical problem C) If it is modified for operation by or transportation of a handicapped person or D) If it is necessary because of terrain, remoteness or similar factors to provide necessary transportation to perform essential daily activities.

A motor vehicle owned by a nursing home resident is also exempt if transferred to a spouse. In all other cases the exemption is limited to $4,500.

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