A Woman’s Story
He looked into his wife’s eyes and flatly stated, “I’ll put a gun to my head before I ever go to a nursing home.” But the sad truth is this: His wife will be the one to bear the burden caused by his long term care needs and her own aging challenges. This couple are frugal people who worked hard all their lives. They lived on two Social Security checks, his modest pension, and minimal investments. They were able to pay their bills and enjoy simple luxuries—until the out-of-pocket expenses of long term care begin to drain what they worked a lifetime to save. His wife selflessly provides in-home care for her beloved husband, until eventually the day comes when her strength is not enough to pick him up or keep him from wandering away from home. On that day, it might be a doctor, a discharge planner, or a policeman who looks into her eyes and speaks the harsh truth to her: “I’m sorry, ma’am. You can’t take care of him by yourself any more.” This poor woman now faces a nightmare as she walks the elder care journey with a frail and declining husband. First she learns that neither Medicare nor their health insurance provide any payment for home health care costs. Later, when her husband must be relocated to a long term care facility, she discovers that neither Medicare nor Medicare supplemental insurance will pay the facility’s $3,000 to $8,000 monthly cost. Quickly, she also learns that Medicaid is not available because she has “too much money.” Her husband’s care will be offset by Medicaid only if she and her husband meet stringent income and asset limitations. If they have assets over approximately $101,000, they must “spend down” their life savings, which Medicaid defines as “excess assets.” When all excess assets have been spent on her husband’s medical care, then Medicaid will also control her monthly income. She is restricted to $2,500 per month; any income above that must be used to pay for her husband’s care. Later, when her husband dies, she receives more bad news. She loses his pension, and as the “survivor spouse” she loses one of their two Social Security checks. She has spent nearly all of their assets to provide for her husband’s care, and now she can’t even afford to live in her own home. The nightmare of long-term care has left her impoverished and stolen her independence. She will now face her own elder care journey alone. She will not have the luxury of a spouse who will serve her as she served him. No one will be there to dutifully care for her at home and to delay the day that she must move to a long term care facility. She will not have the financial resources that he had, because Medicaid called them “excess liquid assets” and she spent those assets on his care. As a single person, she will not be provided with assistance by the State of Illinois or the federal government until she has become impoverished to the point of a paltry $2,000 or less in total assets. The indignity committed against her does not stop there, for now she must sign over all her income to the nursing home as well, except for a miserly “personal needs allowance” of $30 per month. The loving wife who faithfully cared for her husband is now out of money and out of options. $30 per month will not even give her the privilege of having her hair done. She is alone—and living the nightmare of long term care in America.