A long-married, loving couple who live on their fourth-generation family farm has just learned some terrible news — the husband has a terminal illness and must go into long-term care, supplemented by Medicaid. While this family has paid taxes all their lives to help fund Medicaid, they must make a difficult decision. Should the husband and wife get divorced, so that the state of Wisconsin cannot seize their farm after the husband passes away? Yes, this is the reality in Wisconsin since a provision was snuck into the state budget at 3 a.m. with no public testimony.
Gov. Scott Walker’s administration along with his Republican allies in the Legislature got the green light Sept. 18 to allow the state to seize a deceased couples’ joint property to recoup Medicaid expenses.
In other words, if you are a senior citizen receiving Medicaid assistance and you pass away, your living spouse could lose assets that you owned together. In many cases, married couples share ownership over property, real estate, and even businesses. Increasing the state’s ability to take these resources from elderly citizens is simply wrong.
Before Republicans changed the law, the home, vehicle or business of a spouse of a person receiving Medicaid was generally not subject to recovery by the state.
The vast majority of these situations are people who played by the rules and then had something bad happen to them at the end of their lives. We are double-taxing people who by circumstances out of their control ended up in long-term care.
While federal law does require each state to have an estate recovery program to reclaim Medicaid money spent on long-term care, the GOP has decided to triple down on this to earn revenue for the state on the backs of our senior citizens.
I have heard from numerous constituents as well as elder care representatives who have stated that this provision could have drastic, unintended consequences. First, it may leave the remaining spouse destitute. It is in no one’s interest to bankrupt the surviving spouse.
Second, this could lead to elderly couples getting divorced to protect their assets. The Republican Party, which champions family values, should denounce this policy as anti-family and put a stop to it immediately.
Finally, it could become more difficult for children to inherit the family farm, business, or property. These things, which parents have worked for their whole lives in order to give their children a better life, could be gone at the government’s hand.
This policy does not reflect the shared values of Republicans or Democrats in Wisconsin. It is an attack on our most vulnerable citizens when we should be supporting them. I hope that Walker and the Department of Health Services reconsider this cruel policy, which would harm the elderly during the most difficult time in their life. It’s sad to see that the party of "limited government" and "family values" has created this massive government overreach which may well tear families apart.
Providing supportive care with dignity and without the fear of losing everything is the right thing to do.
Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, is a member of the state Assembly.
Monday, October 14, 2013
This op-ed from Melissa Sargent appeared in the Cap Times recently: