Funded by the State Medicaid program, Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) help eligible individuals meet some or all of their cost-sharing obligations under Medicare. See N.Y. Soc. Serv. L. § 367-a(3)(a), (b), and (d). There are three separate MSP programs, the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program, the Specified Low Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program and the Qualified Individual (QI) Program, each of which is discussed below.
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Since April 1, 2008, none of the three MSP programs have resource limits in New York -- which means many Medicare beneficiaries who might not qualify for Medicaid because of excess resources can qualify for an MSP.
Each of the three MSP programs has different income eligibility requirements and provides different benefits. The income limits are tied to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
NOTE: There is usually a lag in time of several weeks, or even months, after January 1st, between the time that the new FPLs are released before the new MSP income limits are officially implemented. During this lag period, local Medicaid offices should continue to use the previous year's FPLs AND count the person's Social Security benefit amount from the previous year - do NOT factor in the Social Security COLA (cost of living adjustment). Once the updated guidelines are released, districts will use the new FPLs and go ahead and factor in any COLA. You can get the current MSP income limits on the DOH MSP webpage and through the General Information System (GIS) memo to local districts.
Income is determined by the same methodology as is used for determining in eligibility for SSI
The rules for counting income for SSI-related (Aged 65+, Blind, or Disabled) Medicaid recipients, borrowed from the SSI program, apply to the MSP program, except for the new rules about counting household size for married couples. N.Y. Soc. Serv. L. 367-a(3)(c)(2), NYS DOH 2000-ADM-7, 89-ADM-7 p.7. Gross income is counted, although there are certain types of income that are disregarded.
The most common income disregards, also known as deductions, include:
(a) The first $20 of your & your spouse's monthly income, earned or unearned ($20 per couple max);
(b) SSI EARNED INCOME DISREGARDS:
* The first $65 of monthly wages of you and your spouse,
* One-half of the remaining monthly wages (after the $65 is deducted);
* Other work incentives including PASS plans, impairment related work expenses (IRWEs), blind work expenses, etc. For information on these deductions, see The Medicaid Buy-In for Working People with Disabilities (MBI-WPD) and other guides in this article -- though written for the MBI-WPD, the work incentives apply to all Medicaid programs, including MSP, for people age 65+, disabled or blind.
(c) monthly cost of any health insurance premiums but NOT the Part B premium, since Medicaid will now pay this premium (may deduct Medigap supplemental policies, vision, dental, or long term care insurance premiums, and the Part D premium but only to the extent the premium exceeds the Extra Help benchmark amount)
(d) Food stamps not counted.
You can get a more comprehensive listing of the SSI-related income disregards on the Medicaid income disregards chart.
The NYS Department of Health has clarified that Medicaid's requirement to pursue potentially available income extends to the Medicare Savings Program (MSP). Per GIS 13 MA/05, as of March 2013, MSP applicants and recipients age 65 and older who are eligible for, but not receiving Social Security retirement benefits, must apply for Social Security as a condition of receiving MSP.
Income placed in an SNT can also qualify someone for a Medicare Savings Program. See Fair Hearing No. 4399513P (Nassau Co., Jan. 31, 2006)(available in WNYLC Online Resource Center, Fair Hearing Database, free registration required)
As for all benefit programs based on financial need, it is usually advantageous to be considered a larger household, because the income limit is higher. The above chart shows that Households of TWO have a higher income limit than households of ONE. The MSP programs use the same rules as Medicaid does for the Disabled, Aged and Blind (DAB) which are borrowed from the SSI program for Medicaid recipients in the “SSI-related category.” Under these rules, a household can be only ONE or TWO. 18 NYCRR 360-4.2. See DAB Household Size Chart.
Married persons can sometimes be ONE or TWO depending on arcane rules, which can force a Medicare beneficiary to be limited to the income limit for ONE person even though his spouse who is under 65 and not disabled has no income, and is supported by the client applying for an MSP.
EXAMPLE: Bob's Social Security is $1300/month. He is age 67 and has Medicare. His wife, Nancy, is age 62 and is not disabled and does not work. Under the old rule, Bob was not eligible for an MSP because his income was above the Income limit for One, even though it was well under the Couple limit.
In 2010, NYS DOH modified its rules so that all married individuals will be considered a household size of TWO. DOH GIS 10 MA 10 Medicare Savings Program Household Size, June 4, 2010. This rule for household size is an exception to the rule applying SSI budgeting rules to the MSP program. Under these rules, Bob is now eligible for an MSP.
When is One Better than Two? Of course, there may be couples where the non-applying spouse's income is too high, and disqualifies the applying spouse from an MSP. In such cases, "spousal refusal" may be used SSL 366.3(a). (Link is to NYC HRA form, can be adapted for other counties).
1. Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB). The QMB program provides the most comprehensive benefits. Available to those with incomes at or below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), the QMB program covers virtually all Medicare cost-sharing obligations: Part B premiums, Part A premiums, if there are any, and any and all deductibles and co-insurance. QMB coverage is not retroactive. The program’s benefits will begin the month after the month in which your client is found eligible.
** See special rules about cost-sharing for QMBs below - updated with new CMS directive issued January 2012
** See new NYC HRA QMB Recertification form
** Even if you do not have Part A automatically, because you did not have enough wages, you may be able to enroll in the Part A Buy-In Program, in which people eligible for QMB who do not otherwise have Medicare Part A may enroll, with Medicaid paying the Part A premium (Materials by the Medicare Rights Center).
2. Specifiedl Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB). For those with incomes between 100% and 120% FPL, the SLMB program will cover Part B premiums only. SLMB is retroactive, however, providing coverage for three months prior to the month of application, as long as your client was eligible during those months.
3. Qualified Individual (QI-1). For those with incomes between 120% and 135% FPL, and not receiving Medicaid, the QI-1 program will cover Medicare Part B premiums only. QI-1 is also retroactive, providing coverage for three months prior to the month of application, as long as your client was eligible during those months. However, QI-1 retroactive coverage can only be provided within the current calendar year. (GIS 07 MA 027) So if you apply in January, you get no retroactive coverage.
Q-I-1 recipients would be eligible for Medicaid with a spend-down, but if they want the Part B premium paid, they must choose between enrolling in QI-1 or Medicaid. They cannot be in both. It is their choice. DOH MRG p. 19. In contrast, one may receive Medicaid and either QMB or SLIMB.
4. Four Special Benefits of MSPs (in addition to NO ASSET TEST):
Benefit 1. Back Door to Medicare Part D "Extra Help" or Low Income Subsidy --
All MSP recipients are automatically enrolled in Extra Help, the subsidy that makes Part D affordable. They have no Part D deductible or doughnut hole, the premium is subsidized, and they pay very low copayments. Once they are enrolled in Extra Help by virtue of enrollment in an MSP, they retain Extra Help for the entire calendar year, even if they lose MSP eligibility during that year.
Benefit 2. MSPs Automatically Waive Late Enrollment Penalties for Part B
Generally one must enroll in Part B within the strict enrollment periods after turning age 65 or after 24 months of Social Security Disability. An exception is if you or your spouse are still working and insured under an employer sponsored group health plan, or if you have End Stage Renal Disease, and other factors, see this from Medicare Rights Center. If you fail to enroll within those short periods, you might have to pay higher Part B premiums for life as a Late Enrollment Penalty (LEP). Also, you may only enroll in Part B during the Annual Enrollment Period from January 1 - March 31st each year, with Part B not effective until the following July. Enrollment in an MSP automatically eliminates such penalties... for life.. even if one later ceases to be eligible for the MSP. AND enrolling in an MSP will automatically result in becoming enrolled in Part B if you didn't already have it and only had Part A. See Medicare Rights Center flyer.
Benefit 3. No Medicaid Lien on Estate to Recover MSP Benefits Paid
Generally speaking, states may place liens on the Estates of deceased Medicaid recipients to recover the cost of Medicaid services that were provided after the recipient reached the age of 55. Since 2002, states have not been allowed to recover the cost of Medicare premiums paid under MSPs. In 2010, Congress expanded protection for MSP benefits. Beginning on January 1, 2010, states may not place liens on the Estates of Medicaid recipients who died after January 1, 2010 to recover costs for co-insurance paid under the QMB MSP program for services rendered after January 1, 2010. The federal government made this change in order to eliminate barriers to enrollment in MSPs. See NYS DOH GIS 10-MA-008 - Medicare Savings Program Changes in Estate Recovery The GIS clarifies that a client who receives both QMB and full Medicaid is exempt from estate recovery for these Medicare cost-sharing expenses.
Benefit 4. SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits not reduced despite increased income from MSP - at least temporarily
Many people receive both SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits and MSP. Income for purposes of SNAP/Food Stamps is reduced by a deduction for medical expenses, which includes payment of the Part B premium. Since approval for an MSP means that the client no longer pays for the Part B premium, his/her SNAP/Food Stamps income goes up, so their SNAP/Food Stamps go down. Here are some protections:
Some clients will be automatically enrolled in an MSP by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) shortly after attaining eligibility for Medicare. Others need to apply. The 2010 "MIPPA" law introduced some improvements to increase MSP enrollment. See 3rd bullet below.
One who is only eligible for QI-1 because of higher income may ONLY apply for an MSP, not for Medicaid too. One may not receive Medicaid and QI-1 at the same time. If someone only eligible for QI-1 wants Medicaid, s/he may enroll in and deposit excess income into a pooled Supplemental Needs Trust, to bring their countable income down to the Medicaid level, which also qualifies him or her for SLIMB or QMB instead of QI-1.
Advocates in NYC can sign up for a half-day "Deputization Training" conducted by the Medicare Rights Center, at which you'll be trained and authorized to complete an MSP application and to submit it via the Medicare Rights Center, which submits it to HRA without the client having to apply in person.
7. QMBs -Special Rules on Cost-Sharing. QMB is the only MSP program which pays not only the Part B premium, but also the Medicare co-insurance. However, there are limitations. First, co-insurance will only be paid if the provide accepts Medicaid. Not all Medicare provides accept Medicaid. Second, under recent changes in New York law, Medicaid will not always pay the Medicare co-insurance, even to a Medicaid provider. But even if the provider does not accept Medicaid, or if Medicaid does not pay the full co-insurance, the provider is banned from "balance billing" the QMB beneficiary for the co-insurance. Click here for an article that explains all of these rules.
This article was authored by the Empire Justice Center.