Medicaid Estate Recovery: Are Texas Seniors Ready?

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Texas's Medicaid Estate Recovery Program starts September 1. The elder-law firm of Wright Abshire Attorneys has free information about the program including must-know facts for seniors.

Texas’s Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (“MERP”) is estimated to begin September 1, 2004. Many in Texas, including Houston elder-law attorney Wesley Wright, are concerned that Texans may not understand the bill or be aware of how it could effect them.

Starting September 1, when a Medicaid recipient dies, the state of Texas (through the Department of Health and Human Services) will be able to file a claim against the decedent’s estate in order to “recover” the cost of long-term care including nursing home fees, hospital care, and medicine costs. Anything considered as part of the probate “estate” -- including homes, property and cash -- is fair game for the state as a source of fund recovery.

According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (“HHSC”), only 292 people attended the 6 public forums held by the HHSC on the topic throughout the state this year. Mr. Wright finds this disturbing considering the number of people affected by the statute. “Many seniors are not concerned with Medicaid legislation because they think it does not apply to them. But with the staggering financial costs of long-term care (around $45,000 - $61,000 per year), the truth in Texas is that 7 out of 10 nursing home patients rely on Medicaid to pay the bill,” he explains.

But before seniors and their families start to panic, Mr. Wright advises that they learn all the facts. “There are substantial limits as to what Texas can access for fund recovery and when they can access it,” he says. For example, the state cannot file against a decedent’s estate if the spouse is still living. Anyone currently on Medicaid for long-term care as of September 1, 2004, is exempt from recovery. Even if a person becomes at risk of recovery, there is a proposed $50,000 automatic exemption on all homesteads.

“These are the types of facts that seniors need to know so they can make informed decisions about accessing the Medicaid program for long-term care,” says Mr. Wright. Seniors and their families can sign up for his FREE newsletter about Medicaid Estate Recovery and other senior legal topics on his website, http://www.wrightabshire.com. A summary of the program and proposed rules may be found online at the Texas Department of Health and Human Services website: http://www.hhsc.state.tx.us/medicaid/EstateRecovery/Framework.html

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Amy Kaszak
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