Attempt to recoup Medicaid costs from heirs falls short; religious freedom/LGBT adoption bill shelved
April 4th, 2016
A move to tighten restrictions on people who give land to their family and then rely on Medicaid for nursing home costs fell short in the Legislature Friday. And a controversial bill pitting religious rights vs. nondiscrimination in adoption was shelved for the year.
Right now, you can turn over land you own to family members but keep what’s called a life estate interest, entitling you to the rental income if it’s farm ground, for example.
If you later apply for Medicaid and move to a nursing home, the state requires you to use that income toward your share of the cost. The proposal by Sen. Paul Schumacher would have required people transferring land but keeping a life estate interest to notify the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department would then be able to get a lien on the property, and after the landowner died, the family members would be responsible for the Medicaid costs that had be borne by the state. A 2004 legislative study estimated the change would enable the state to recoup $12 million a year. But the proposal met was resisted by some rural senators, who said it would interfere with parents’ ability to pass farms along to their children. Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete expressed surprise at that line of argument.
“I am gobsmacked,” Ebke declared. “People in this body, and, conservative friends, I’m one of those as well, have said that we aren’t willing to expand Medicaid, in large part because of cost. And yet you don’t want to monitor the eligibility of potential Medicaid patients who will cost us and our children $5,000 or more a month?”
Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell was among those opposing the bill. Kuehn said if a parent paid for a child to go to college, the state wouldn’t go after that money. But if he gave the child farmland, the bill would kick in. “Not only is that just blatantly unfair. It also represents a significant change in the way that inter-generational businesses operate at this point in time,” Kuehn said.
After six hours of debate, supporters of the measure tried to cut off debate and get to a vote on the bill. The vote was 29-19, but 33 votes were needed, killing the bill for the year.
Senators avoided what promised to be a lengthy debate on another proposal, by Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward. Kolterman’s bill would have directed the state not to take any adverse action, such as cancelling contracts, with certain agencies that place children for adoption. If such an agency chose not to recruit same-sex couples to place children with because of religious beliefs, it would be protected.
Sen. Ernie Chambers had promised extended debate against the bill, citing what he called the history of discrimination by religious organizations. Kolterman said that gave him a practical reason for asking the bill be shelved. “With only days left in this session and other important issues still to discuss, I do not want to be responsible for holding up the remaining work that we need to do. Despite the sometimes heated and passionate debate this bill has caused, I have the utmost respect for each of you, this body, and above all, the great people of this state,” Kolterman said.
Kolterman said in all likelihood a similar proposal would be introduced next year. Lawmakers adjourned for the weekend, and will be back at work Monday.
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