Question of the Day on “We are applying for Georgia Medicaid benefits for my mother who is 81 years old and has Alzheimer’s disease. Mom has very few assets but does have an IRA account that the Medicaid case worker says has to be annuitized so that monthly payments are received. Why is this necessary, who receives the monthly payments, and upon Mom’s death, will we the family – rather than the state – receive the remainder of Mom’s IRA?”

Answer:  Georgia Medicaid policy, found at Section 2332 et seq. of VOLUME II/MA, MT 39-08/10 titled “Retirement Funds”, expressly exempt retirement funds, including, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) Keogh plans, and some retirement profit sharing plans are “exempt” or non-countable resources for Aged, Blind, or Disabled classes of Medicaid, including Long-Term Care (Nursing Home) Medicaid if owned by the applicant/recipient if the applicant/recipient applies for “periodic” distributions.  To be eligible for ABD Medicaid, the individual must apply for periodic benefits.  If s/he has the choice between periodic payments and a lump sum, the individual must apply for periodic payments. 

A “lump” sum is a liquidation of the retirement fund.  There’s no requirement in the Medicaid plan that payments be taken monthly; payments can be made annually.  The Medicaid policy states “[p]eriodic retirement benefits are payments made to an individual at some regular interval (e.g. monthly).  The signal, “e.g.” means “for example”.  As a result, the use of “monthly” in the policy is intended only as an example of what “periodic payments” means.  

The caseworker is directed to determine if the applicant for Nursing Home Medicaid is eligible for periodic payments from the IRA.  If not, can the individual make a lump sum withdrawal.  If the individual is eligible and receiving periodic payments, the payments are treated as “income” only; the fund is disregarded as an asset. 

A retirement fund belonging to an applicant/recipient’s spouse is disregarded, regardless as to whether periodic payments are made. 

The income is budgeted with other sources of income the applicant receives.  For example, if she has Social Security retirement and the IRA distributions, these amounts make up her income.  Once Medicaid eligibility is established, Medicaid calculates a “patient liability” or cost-share which is her contribution toward the costs of her long-term care.  Patient liability is paid over to the nursing home each month.  

The IRA does not designate the State as the beneficiary upon death; she can designate whomsoever she wishes. 

It sounds like the Medicaid caseworker communicating with this family is confusing the treatment of an “annuity” with the treatment of “retirement funds” for Nursing Home Medicaid eligibility purposes.

David Paul Pollan, Esq.
The Pollan Law Firm
Atlanta, Georgia  30309
Member of the national ElderCare Matters Alliance, Georgia chapter

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