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When married couples seek home care paid for through Medicaid, each state runs a Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program that provides coverage. Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there was no uniformity among the states as to whether to apply the traditional spousal impoverishment rules for nursing home Medicaid to HCBS Medicaid. Spousal impoverishment protections allow for the protection of resources and income for the benefit of the well spouse safe from contribution towards the infirmed spouse’s cost of care.

The ACA rectified that problem and mandated that all states apply the spousal impoverishment protections of the long-term care institutional Medicaid program to the HCBS home care programs. The only catch, it contained a sunset clause that expired on December 31, 2018.

Congress put a temporary band-aid over this problem at the end of the year with a 3-month extension signed by President Trump. This was done in an effort to give Congress the time to debate and deliberate on a permanent extension.

The temporary extension ran out a few days ago on March 31, 2019. Without additional congressional action, the provision sunsets and states will be able to ignore spousal impoverishment protections for tens of thousands of married seniors receiving HCBS care, potentially exposing considerable amounts of community spouse assets to depletion or forcing seniors to move from home into skilled nursing homes where the spousal impoverishment protections are absolute.

A bipartisan bill introduced by Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI), would be a permanent solution to this problem. The Protecting Married Seniors from Impoverishment Act has not yet received an up or down floor vote in the US House. We will be keeping close tabs on this and looking to see if states start taking liberty with home care eligibility requirements.