What is the Medicaid Lookback Period?
Medicaid is a healthcare program jointly operated by the individual states and the federal government. Medicaid is designed to help individuals with limited income and resources pay for healthcare costs including nursing home care, assisted living, or in-home care. However, qualifying for Medicaid can be difficult. While eligibility is state-dependent, there are generally four key requirements:
- You must be 65 years of age or older, permanently disabled, or otherwise qualify depending on your specific state’s class requirements
- You must be a resident of the state in which you are applying, and either a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or legal alien
- Your income must be within your state’s income limitations
- Your assets must be within your state’s asset limitations.
To help individuals qualify for much-needed Medicaid coverage, multiple strategies exist to reduce one’s income and assets to the state threshold without adversely affecting the individual’s life. These include gifting assets to family and friends, transferring assets to a spouse, and investing in exempt assets (exempt assets are assets that do not count as “assets” for Medicaid purposes – most states allow certain home values to be exempt).
To avoid individuals taking advantage of these strategies at the last minute to qualify, however, the federal government implemented a “lookback period.” This is a period of time for which financial transactions involving the applicant will be reviewed. The purpose of the lookback period is to identify assets, such as money or cars, that may have been gifted or sold below market value in an effort to reduce the applicant’s assets to within the state’s Medicaid asset limitation.
For all states except California, the lookback period is 60 months (5 years). For California, the lookback period is 30 months (2.5 years). The lookback period begins on the day that the individual applies for Medicaid. Thus, when an application is filed, the government will review all financial transactions to look for transactions that violate Medicaid eligibility provisions, such as certain gifts and transfers.
If the reviewing agency identifies transactions within the lookback period that violate the eligibility rules, the applicant will be assessed a penalty. The penalty for violating a transaction during the lookback period is ineligibility for a certain period of time. To calculate the length of the penalty, the government will divide the amount of the transaction in violation by the average monthly or daily private care costs in a nursing home. For example, if an individual gifts $40,000 in a violating transaction during the lookback period and the state’s monthly private care cost for nursing home care is $4,000, then the individual will be assessed a penalty of 10 months of ineligibility. Here, the individual would be assessed a penalty of 10 months to begin from when the individual became eligible for Medicaid.
Given the harsh penalties for violating transactions during the Medicaid lookback period, having proper legal representation can help to ensure that your planning complies with all state and federal law.