A Mixed Bag in Virginia: Federal Law Prohibits 2011 Social Security Increases, but Federal Agency Grants Millions to Disadvantaged Groups

As Halloween approaches this year, I can’t help but draw an analogy between the nights I spent meandering my neighborhood as a kid looking for handouts, and our current economic times.  I recall my grade-school friends and I operating our minds at their collective capacities, as we planned the best streets to target and the best routes to take to get from house to house most efficiently. Some of the parents surpassed expectations and gave out the good stuff — like king size candy bars! Others doled out the less-desirable treats, such as candy corns, smarties, or the dreaded raisins.  Some neighbors, when they were gone for the evening, left out giant bowls of candy for us trick-or-treaters to help ourselves.  Other neighbors were always gone, and their houses completely dark.  But fortunately for us candy-loving kids, most or our neighbors participated in the fun of Halloween. In fact, many of our neighbors offered a variety of different candy to choose from each year.  We never knew how much candy we’d wind up with at the end of the night, or how much of the “good stuff” we’d have in our bag.

Similar to the unpredictability of household Halloween generosity encountered by children, the Federal Government is providing the public with what can appropriately be called a “mixed bag” of economic solutions. It might just depend on what house, or rather, what state you live in.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients will not receive an increase in 2011 because there has been no increase in the federal Consumer Price Index.  Read the Social Security News Release Here (released October 15, 2010).

Though the federal Social Security Administration is not able to provide an increase for its beneficiaries because of long-standing federal law that ties Social Security and Supplemental Security to the Consumer Price Index, other federal agencies, and some state agencies, are doing what they can to help alleviate the financial struggles of the elderly and disabled.

One prime example:  the federal Administration on Aging and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (both part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services) recently awarded more than $2 million in grant funding to the Virginia Department for the Aging and the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, the latter being the Virginia agency that runs our state’s Medicaid system.   Read the Commonwealth of Virginia Press Release Here (released October 6, 2010).

This grant funding to Virginia’s Medicaid system comes with high hopes and great expectations. The over $2 million in funding will be used to bolster services for two key underprivileged groups — the elderly and the disabled — by alleviating burdens in the following areas:

•    Prescription drug coverage
•    Long-term care services
•    Transition support from nursing homes to community based services
•    In-home support services for sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease

In providing these much-needed funds to Virginia for the improvement of Virginia’s Medicaid program and the development of additional services for the elderly and the disabled, the Federal Government has demonstrated its continuing commitment to improving and strengthening the Medicaid system throughout the United States.  As Senator Rockefeller wrote in 2005, on the 40th anniversary of the Medicaid program,  “taking care of our most vulnerable people is a moral obligation . . . our representative democracy has a responsibility to do for the future what we have repeatedly done in the past: protect, preserve, and strengthen Medicaid.”

Medicaid is what pays for the vast majority of nursing home care in the United States. With both the Federal Governemtn and the Virginia State Goverment now strenghtening the Medicaid program, smart long-term care planning (i.e., Medicaid Asset Protection Planning) has never been as important as it is now. According to the Virginia Department for the Aging, the population of elderly adults in Virginia will double in less than 20 years — to the point where one in five residents of Virginia is expected to be aged 65 or older.

A statistic I cited in a previous article demonstrates the importance of Medicaid Asset Protection Planning — about 70% of Americans who live to age 65 will wind up needing long-term care at some point in their lives.  For the more than 40% who will require long-term placement in a nursing home, the cost of such care will be financially devastating without a smart Medicaid Asset Protection Plan focused on structuring assets in a way that protects those assets while allowing earlier Medicaid eligibility.

For most seniors over age 65, Medicaid is the equivalent of government-subsidized long-term care insurance, just as Medicare is governement-subsidized health insurance.  But remember — the fact that Medicaid is “government-subsidized” does not mean that it’s a “handout.” On the contrary, it’s your tax dollars that fund the Medicaid program, just as it’s your tax dollars that fund Medicare.  It’s also important to note that the Federal Government and Virginia State Government both encourage Americans to engage in smart Medicaid Asset Protection Planning — for example:  there are laws that protect spouses of nursing home residents; there are laws that encourage Americans to engage in Medicaid Asset Protection by purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance “Partnership” policies; there are laws that allow the exemption of certain types of assets when applying for Medicaid; there are laws that permit individuals to qualify for Medicaid even after transferring assets to a spouse, or to a disabled family member, or to a caregiver child.  To smartly plan and protect assets while accelerating qualification for Medicaid is no different than planning ahead to maximize your income tax deductions in order to minimize your income taxes.   It is no different than taking advantage of tax-free municipal bonds.  It is no different than planning your estate to avoid estate taxes (which, incidentally, a lot more people are going to be doing again next year when the Federal Estate Tax returns with a vengeance — with an Exemption Equivalent Amount of only $1 million — but that’s for another article . . . ).

At a time when much federal spending leads to controversy, Medicaid is an example of the government legitimately promoting the best interests of society.  Similar to how my mom always made sure I ate a well-balanced dinner before embarking upon my annual October 31st sugar binge, our Federal Government and State Government are truly looking after the citizens of America (even in these gloomy economic times) by directing funds to programs that benefit and protect our most fragile citizens — the elderly and disabled.

The Farr Law Firm specializes in Family Protection Planning (i.e., Estate Planning, Incapacity Planning, and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning), and we are here to help you.  If you have not yet done your Family Protection Planning, I encourage you to call us to take advantage of a free consultation to determine the planning solution that’s best for you and your family.

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