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Newsweek Columnist Weighs in on Medicaid Planning Debate

  • January 24th, 2003

In Newsweek's January 27 issue, My Turn columnist Diana Conway tells of calling a Medicaid (Medi-Cal) worker in California about paying for long-term care for her stepmother, who suffers from dementia. The worker suggested that Conway's father contact an attorney to arrange his finances so that he can qualify for Medicaid coverage and avoid spending all his savings on his wife's care. Although taking such actions is perfectly legal, Conway refers to it as stealing because her father is not truly poor.

Every well-to-do senior who hides savings for the gain of his own family and seeks benefits meant for the needy weakens communal bonds, she writes. Have we become a nation of Scrooges, counting our own coins with little concern for others?

Conway says her father has decided to pay for his wife's care himself, even though it means that his life savings will evaporate if his wife requires prolonged care. Although he may not leave any money to Conway, she writes that he will leave me one thing of great value: an example of ethical behavior in an era when most people are out to grab everything they can for themselves.

In a letter (as yet unpublished) to Newsweek in response to the column, Bernard A. Krooks, president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and an ElderLawAnswers member, says that the real ethical scandal is not middle class couples taking advantage of legal ways to protect each other''s solvency, but rather the way we, as a society, care for the elderly and chronically ill.

Medicaid, Krooks writes, is the product of our nation''s unwillingness to treat health care--including long-term care--as a basic human right. If we did, we would embrace some system of universal access to care, whether it be a social insurance model or a private model with guaranteed access. In a universal model, everyone pays a fair share, and everyone receives coverage. . . . Moms and dads everywhere are willing to pay their fair share. We just don''t give them a system to do it in.

Krooks also points out that elder law attorneys do far more than advise their clients on how to qualify for Medicaid. There are many other options for meeting the cost of long-term care, and the elder law attorney's professional ethical obligation is to explain all of them, along with their pros and cons. The attorney then helps the client implement the legal options chosen according the older person''s own goals, wishes, and values, as defined by that person, and not as defined by the attorney, nor by Uncle Sam, nor by Ms. Conway.

Read the Newsweek column by clicking on: www.msnbc.com/news/860877.asp

For more on the ethics of Medicaid planning, click here.

Local Elder Law Attorneys in Ashburn, VA

Evan Farr

The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C.
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Jean Ball

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Margaret A. O'Reilly, PC
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Last Modified: 01/24/2003

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