There’s another layer of rules for families in which the person hoping to get government help paying for long-term care has a spouse who is still living independently. States are treating such “well” spouses in dramatically different ways.
Marriage is a unique economic and legal institution. Indeed, when it works out, marriage also means a happy lifetime of living with another. Of course, because life lasts longer and health wanes differently between persons, those unique economic and legal parts to marriage can translate into difficult times later in life.
Against the backdrop of the in sickness portion of the vows, one difficulty that arises was addressed recently in a Wall Street Journal article titled Long-Term Care and Couples: Who Pays?. That difficulty is the phenomenon of the “well spouse,” the “ill spouse,” and Medicaid. Practically speaking, if one spouse becomes chronically sick and needs long-term care, will the other spouse be driven into poverty?
Marital assets, whether owned by the husband or the wife, are part of the equation when it comes to determining Medicaid eligibility. Medicaid is the joint federal/state government program to provide means-tested health care assistance to those who qualify.
With both federal and state coffers bleeding red ink (with a few state exceptions), Medicaid money is tight, especially in terms of long-term care coverage — whether married or single. As the Wall Street Journal article notes, however, some states are treating the “well spouses” more generously than others regarding how much wealth they may retain while the “sick spouses” are receiving taxpayer support through Medicaid.
I recommend reading the original article. Also, consider purchasing long-term care insurance so Medicaid does not become part of your future. In any event, a consultation with a qualified Elder Law Attorney would be prudent to evaluate your options.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal (April 2, 2012) “Long-Term Care and Couples: Who Pays?”