The 2011 Florida Legislature is looking at ways to cut the budget, and one of their considerations is Medicaid reform.  While I agree there are budget issues in Florida, much of the Medicaid Reform seems to be based on misconception, misinformation and misunderstanding.  Medicaid recipients are the most vulnerable citizens in Florida.  They are the sickest, frailest, youngest and oldest among us.  They are the citizens that need the most protection, compassion and support so as not to create further financial woes for their families and the State of Florida through no fault of their own.

For example, in the long term care setting, the majority of Medicaid recipients suffer from dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other genetic disorder.  These recipients are faced with costs more than $7,500 per month for nursing home care, and many if not most, have exhausted nearly all their resources and many of their families’ resources paying for care.

Medicaid recipients are not hiding their money to access Medicaid for terrific benefits and in an attempt to avoid the cost of purchasing long term care (LTC) insurance as some would have us believe.  Nor do they wish to place the burden of care on taxpayers.  Medicaid recipients cannot obtain long term care insurance due to their illnesses and infirmities.  And there are many who did purchase LTC insurance many years ago, before it was needed, but due to lack of good policies or the recent bankruptcies of LTC insurance companies, those policies are exhausted or provided very little, if any, benefit.

Medicaid recipients have less than $2,000 in countable assets, per the current laws, and they have very limited income.  They are allowed to keep only $35 of their income to pay for the “extras” that Medicaid does not pay for such as clothing, shoes, dentures, or eyeglasses.

Florida elder law attorneys help seniors and their families understand the rules of Medicaid, the limited services available under Medicaid, and alternative sources of payment (other than Medicaid).  They also help the family understand how family transfers can punish their loved ones who need Medicaid and can help them obtain benefits for their loved ones.   The vast majority of individuals helped by elder law attorneys have very few assets outside of their home, limited retirement income and their personal belongings.

Yes, Florida has budget problems and these problems need to be addressed.  However, the proposed Medicaid reforms appear to be based on myth and geared toward funneling Florida’s limited resources to for-profit companies that ration health care for profit.  The proposed reform discriminates against family members who have chosen to alleviate some of the financial stress of their elderly loved ones by providing care at reduced costs, thus reducing the burden on Florida’s Medicaid program by keeping elders in home or community-based programs longer.  It also discriminates based on disease, harming those who have catastrophic, genetically triggered illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

How Can You Help?

If you are concerned about how this reform could affect your family, please write to your legislator and tell them:

  1. No one chooses nursing home placement paid for by Medicaid as a first option for care;
  2. Families provide more long term care than the budget of both Medicare and Medicaid combined;
  3. Families exhaust their savings, their jobs and sometimes, their health, to maintain care for elders at home for as long as possible; and
  4. Profit-based, cost containment is a myth that will not solve Florida’s Medicaid budget deficit without significant harm to Florida’s most vulnerable citizens.
  5. Please vote against any legislation that limits payment to family caregivers, forces Florida’s elderly into managed cost organizations, and limits protections of Florida’s elders in long term care settings.

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Click here to contact the Governor
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To learn more about Florida Elder Law and issues affecting seniors, please contact the Law Offices of Laurie Ohall.