Health

California's new budget includes protections for Medi-Cal patients after they die

Beginning in January, California will limit its Medi-Cal recovery claims to costs associated with nursing home care, which is required by federal law.
Beginning in January, California will limit its Medi-Cal recovery claims to costs associated with nursing home care, which is required by federal law.
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The newly-signed California budget contains a provision that limits a controversial state practice of seizing assets from the estates of older, low-income Medi-Cal recipients upon their deaths. 

Since 1993, the estates of Californians who received health insurance and other general health care through the Medi-Cal program when they were 55 or older have been subject to asset recovery claims by the state, regardless of the type of medical services received. 

But beginning in January,  California will limit its Medi-Cal recovery claims to costs associated with nursing home care, which is required by federal law. 

"We're overjoyed," says Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, which has long sought this change in the law. "We get thousands of calls each year from people who are worried about losing their family homes when someone on Medi-Cal died and the home was in [the deceased's] name."

McGinnis points out that California is one of only a handful of states that has opted for this more aggressive approach to cost recovery. It has only netted the state about $30 million over the past decade, or less than .1 percent of the Medi-Cal budget.  But she says the policy has caused many older Californians who would otherwise qualify for low- or no-cost Medi-Cal insurance coverage to forgo receiving it. 

The National Association of Medicaid Directors is among the supporters of California's existing asset recovery policy, on the grounds that it helps offset the $500 billion price tag of the nation's Medicaid programs.

In addition, says Association Executive Director Matt Salo, California’s law has included hardship protections for heirs and surviving spouses.