Letter: Baker budget plan harmful to seniors

Posted
Baker budget plan harmful to seniors

To the editor:

Seniors across the commonwealth are rightfully up in arms over Gov. Baker's proposal to expand Medicaid estate recovery in Outside Section 11 of the fiscal year 2017 budget. The proposal would harm seniors, their spouses and families, and the sanctity of the family home.

Under current law, the commonwealth can be reimbursed for MassHealth coverage from property in a MassHealth recipient's probate estate. The proposal would dramatically expand estate recovery beyond a decedent's probate estate to include property in which the decedent had any ownership interest immediately prior to death. This would include jointly-owned homes, life estate interests, and possibly even trusts established by parents for children with special needs.

Far from targeting the rich, the proposal targets our commonwealth's most vulnerable citizens: those with Alzheimer's, dementia and Parkinson's who ultimately secure MassHealth benefits. They would now suffer the indignity of exposing their family homes to expanded estate recovery.

The estate recovery claim will make it impossible for a surviving owner to sell or mortgage the property without first addressing the claim. This places an enormous financial burden on surviving spouses, who are often women of modest means whose ability to pay for their own care and support will be threatened.

Consider the impact on seniors who have done estate planning in the past based upon then-existing law. Gov. Baker's proposal totally upends that planning and renders their homes subject to expanded estate recovery. Put simply, if you or a loved one owns your home jointly with rights of survivorship or by life estate deed, you are negatively impacted by this proposal.

For all the harms this proposal promises to impose, one might think that expanded estate recovery would yield enormous additional revenue. Think again. The commonwealth already tried a virtually identical expanded estate recovery law under Gov. Romney in 2003- it was an unmitigated disaster, extraordinarily costly to the state, and repealed in 2004. New York, too, passed a similar law in 2011 and repealed it in 2012, after a year of turmoil.

Massachusetts' current estate recovery law, which like most states limits recovery to the probate estate, is not broken and should not be "fixed" with a previously tried and failed law that imposes such burdens on our most vulnerable populations. The Legislature should entirely reject Gov. Baker's proposal and maintain the sanctity of the family homestead.

The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (MassNAELA) advocates on legislation affecting the elderly and those with special needs. We encourage concerned citizens to contact their legislators as soon as possible to voice their opposition to Gov. Baker's proposal to expand Medicaid estate recovery in Outside Section 11 of the fiscal year 2017 budget.

Margot G. Birke is president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.


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