Medicaid Estate Claims: Perpetuating Poverty & Inequality for a Minimal Return

Executive Summary

Federal law requires state Medicaid programs to seek repayment of specified Medicaid benefits, even if the state would prefer not to seek such recovery. The Medicaid program’s claim is enforced against the heirs of now-deceased persons who relied on Medicaid, forcing the heirs in many cases to sell a family home that otherwise would have been passed down.

The burden of estate claims falls disproportionately on economically oppressed families and communities of color, preventing families from building wealth through home ownership, which has been historically denied to communities of color through discriminatory public policy. The burden also falls inequitably on families due to medical unpredictability – for example, because their family member developed Alzheimer’s Disease, needing months or years of nursing home care or equivalent home and community-based services. This unpredictability is exacerbated by inequities in our health care system that particularly harm lower-income and older adults of color. All these factors contribute to estate claim collections being unfair and societally counterproductive.

This issue brief examines how Congress should amend Federal law to eliminate or at least provide greater flexibility in enforcement of Medicaid estate claims.

This issue brief was jointly authored by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), Justice in Aging, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), National Health Law Program (NHeLP), and Western Center on Law & Poverty to raise awareness about the counterproductive nature of Medicaid estate recovery. Medicaid coverage should support low and middle-income families, but estate recovery perpetuates poverty and inequality in exchange for a minimal financial benefit to states.

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