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Medicaid Change Could Help Washingtonians with Long-Term Care Needs

Raul Hidalgo, who has been taking care of his brother for more than two decades, says he must sometimes pay out of his own pocket for medical expenses. (SEIU 775)
Raul Hidalgo, who has been taking care of his brother for more than two decades, says he must sometimes pay out of his own pocket for medical expenses. (SEIU 775)
March 8, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Health-care and anti-poverty advocates are pushing for the state to fix Medicaid qualifications for folks with long-term care needs.

The solution could aid seniors and people with disabilities, as well as caregivers. The change would increase the threshold at which people pay for their own care, from incomes at 100 percent of the federal poverty line to 130 percent.

Lani Todd, legislative and public-policy director for SEIU 775, which represents caregivers in the state, said Washingtonians above the 100 percent threshold can pay hundreds of dollars a month in co-pays, leaving little money left over for the increasing cost of living.

"Our low-income seniors in Washington are some of the most impacted by the housing crisis," she said, "and being able to put this money back in their pockets for people on a limited and set income is a way to do a really targeted improvement, to making sure people can stay in their houses."

Seniors with incomes of 150 percent of the federal poverty line or below are eligible for long-term care services through Medicaid. Gov. Jay Inslee proposed lifting the income threshold in his two-year budget, so it does not require specific legislation to make the change.

The monthly amount folks with long-term care retain for their personal income is known as the personal-needs allowance, and some of it also is used to pay caregivers.

For nearly 25 years, Raul Hidalgo has been taking care of his brother, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. Hidalgo ends up paying for the things his brother can't afford, which puts a tighter squeeze on his own finances as costs in the Seattle area go up.

"There are times where I have to take over those bills, and then I have to pay out of my own pocket," he said. "Especially when it comes to medical bills, the medical supplies, they can be very expensive at times."

The Washington state Department of Social and Health Services estimates about 6,000 people on Medicaid live above the poverty line and are paying for their own care each month.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA