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Is a 'Medicaid Divorce' Ethical?

  • July 29th, 2002

Those who transfer assets and use other strategies to qualify for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care often wonder whether what they are doing, although legal, is also ethical. The New York Times' resident ethicist has now ruled that it is.

Each week, the Sunday New York Times Magazine features an advice column called 'The Ethicist,' in which a writer named Randy Cohen answers questions of those faced with ethical dilemmas.

In this past Sunday's (July 28) column, a Seattle woman asks whether it is ethical to divorce her husband who was recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Eventually, the husband will require Medicaid coverage of nursing home care. As explained in our Web site's section on Medicaid, the spouse of a Medicaid applicant is permitted to keep a small amount of money'ā€¯slightly less than $89,280 in the woman's state of Washington. This woman would like to protect her modest savings and is wondering whether it is ethical to 'cheat' Medicaid by divorcing her husband. If she were to do this, her assets would not be counted in determining his eligibility for Medicaid.

The Ethicist sees nothing unethical about divorcing for this reason. '[I]t is through divorce , paradoxical as it sounds, that you can best honor your marriage vow to cleave to your husband for better or for worse,' Cohen writes. 'Preserving your small savings will be enormously beneficial to you both.'

Cohen also advises that the woman seek legal and financial advice to explore other options besides divorce. 'Done with respect for the law and compassion for your husband,' he says, 'such actions, divorce included, are prudent and ethical courses of action.'

For the full text of the July 28 New York Times Ethicist column, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/28/magazine/28ETHICIST.html (If you haven''t already signed up for the New York Times Web site, you''ll have to do so first. It''s free.)

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Last Modified: 07/29/2002

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