Married couples get some assistance

Spousal anti-impoverishment measures were a key focus during the legislative session. As the regular session wound down, the Minnesota Senate and House passed the supplemental budget bill which included two provisions that will provide extra protections to married Minnesotans who use home and community-based services (HCBS) waivers. The changes will help Minnesotans with disabilities who are affected by recent changes at the federal level.

These provisions are needed as a result of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recent notification to all states to apply spousal anti-impoverishment rules to all home and community based services (waiver participants under a provision in the Affordable Care Act. These changes will negatively impact those participants who are married because they will now need to include the assets of their spouse in determining eligibility.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) estimates that about 450 to 500 families will be affected by these rules. These families were facing the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in assets or having going through an unwanted divorce in order to maintain eligibility.

Providing relief from this negative impact has been one of the top issues for the Minnesota Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) and several of its member organizations this session. MN-CCD worked with members in the Senate and House on two separate proposals to mitigate the harm cause by the new federal rule and both proposals were accepted by the supplemental budget conference committee during the final days of the session. They include:

1. Raising the community spouse asset allowance to $119,220. By raising the allowance from $33,000 to $119,220, the maximum allowed under federal law, all families affected by the spousal anti-impoverishment rule change will be allowed to keep more of their assets.

2. Undue hardship exclusion for retirement and college savings accounts. An undue hardship exemption will provide asset protection for family retirement and college savings accounts if the person would lose eligibility for HCBS waivers due to excess assets. Those who have to comply with the new rules can protect the unassisted spouse’s retirement savings in certain retirement account that cannot be accessed without penalty, typically when the unassisted spouse is under the age of 59 1/2 years of age. The family can also protect college savings plans under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code on behalf of a child under age 25 years old.

Although this is positive step forward, it does not entirely mitigate the impact of this rule change. Families will still have an asset limit to meet for eligibility and the hardship provision will protect some assets although not all for families who are over the asset limit. As we wait for Gov. Mark Dayton to sign the bill into law, MN-CCD and its partners will continue to push Congress to allow Minnesota to maintain our more generous anti-spousal impoverishment rules so families can take care of their loved one without fear of financial hardship or divorce. We still have a long way to go, but this is a significant victory and a very important step Minnesota lawmakers have taken as we continue to push for federal action.

-Dan Endreson is co-chair of Minnesota Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities public policy committee and works for MS Society of Minnesota.