By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A little-known provision in state law that allows middle income senior citizens to qualify for Medicaid is in danger of being watered down to the point where it won’t help people in need, according to two Bay Ridge Republican lawmakers.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) and state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) came to the Saint Nicholas Home, a nursing home on Ovington Avenue, on Feb. 7 to urge elderly residents to write to Governor Andrew Cuomo to demand that he preserve intact what is known as the right of spousal refusal.
Under the right of spousal refusal the assets of a husband and wife are considered separate, even if the couple has been married for decades. A husband or wife with an ailing spouse in need of nursing home care can hold onto their own assets, separating them from the assets of the stricken spouse. Such a designation is crucial, according to Malliotakis, who said that it helps the healthy spouse hold onto at least some of the assets a couple has earned over a lifetime, instead of having to become destitute in order to qualify for Medicaid.
Medicaid is often the only way a family can get an elderly relative into a nursing home, one of the most expensive items in the field of health care, Malliotakis said. Medicaid is a federally funded health care program for low income Americans. While it is a federal program, Medicaid is administered through the states.
“You can have a certain amount of assets in your name and separate from your ailing spouse. You can keep your home, your car, and up to $113,640 in assets,” she told the senior citizens who had gathered in the home to hear from her and Golden.
Under Cuomo’s proposed state budget, there would still be a right of spousal refusal, but the total number of assets one can have would be $20,850.
“Who could live the rest of their lives on that amount?” Malliotakis asked.
The right of spousal refusal, in which a husband or wife can legally refuse to incur all of the costs of long term health care, allows families to stay financially solvent, Golden said. “Otherwise, the state will force you to go bankrupt,” he said.
“It’s not only inhumane, It’s just plain wrong. It hurts families and it hurts communities,” Golden said.
In the past, people faced with the prospect of having to put an elderly spouse into a nursing home have taken drastic steps in order to avoid having to give up all of their assets, Golden said. Many have gone so far as to divorce that spouse, he said. “Give up your assets or divorce your spouse,” he said.
Golden and Malliotakis said they will introduce bills in their respective legislative houses that would maintain the current financial levels in the right of spousal refusal.
The right of spousal refusal has been a part of New York State’s health care system for 40 years, Malliotakis said.