South Carolina Medicaid Eligibility for Long Term Care: Income & Asset Limits

Last updated: February 10, 2021


South Carolina Medicaid Definition

In South Carolina, Medicaid is called Healthy Connections and is administered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS).

Medicaid is a wide-ranging, jointly funded state and federal health care program for low-income individuals of all ages. However, this page is focused on Medicaid eligibility for South Carolina elderly residents, aged 65 and over, and specifically for long term care, whether that be at home, in a nursing home, or in an assisted living facility.

  The American Council on Aging now offers a free, quick and easy Medicaid eligibility test for seniors.


Income & Asset Limits for Eligibility

There are several different Medicaid long-term care programs for which South Carolina seniors may be eligible. These programs have slightly different financial and medical eligibility requirements, as well as differing benefits. Further complicating eligibility are the facts that the requirements vary with marital status and that South Carolina offers multiple pathways towards Medicaid eligibility.

1) Institutional / Nursing Home Medicaid – this is an entitlement program, meaning anyone who is eligible will receive assistance, and is provided only in nursing home facilities.
2) Medicaid Waivers / Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) – these programs limit the number of participants. Therefore, wait lists may exist. Services are provided at home, adult day care, or in assisted living.
3) Regular Medicaid / Aged Blind and Disabled (ABD) – this is an entitlement program, which means meeting the eligibility requirements ensures program participation, and is provided at home or adult day care.

The table below provides a quick reference to allow seniors to determine if they might be immediately eligible for long term care from a South Carolina Medicaid program. Alternatively, one can take the Medicaid Eligibility Test.  IMPORTANT, not meeting all the criteria below does not mean one is not eligible or cannot become eligible for Medicaid in South Carolina. More.

2021 South Carolina Medicaid Long Term Care Eligibility for Seniors
Type of Medicaid Single Married (both spouses applying) Married (one spouse applying)
Income Limit Asset Limit Level of Care Required Income Limit Asset Limit Level of Care Required Income Limit Asset Limit Level of Care Required
Institutional / Nursing Home Medicaid $2,382 / month* $2,000 Nursing Home $4,764 / month* $4,000 Nursing Home $2,382 / month for applicant* $2,000 for applicant & $66,480 for non-applicant Nursing Home
Medicaid Waivers / Home and Community Based Services $2,382 / month $2,000 Nursing Home $4,764 / month $4,000 Nursing Home $2,382 / month for applicant $2,000 for applicant & $66,480 for non-applicant Nursing Home
Regular Medicaid / Aged Blind or Disabled $1,073 / month** $7,970 None $1,452 / month** $11,800 None $1,452 / month** $11,960 None
What Defines “Income”

For Medicaid eligibility purposes, any income that a Medicaid applicant receives is counted. To clarify, this income can come from any source. Examples include employment wages, alimony payments, Veteran’s benefits, pension payments, Social Security Disability Income, Social Security Income, IRA withdrawals, and stock dividends. An exception exists for Covid-19 stimulus checks, which do not count as income, and therefore, do not impact Medicaid eligibility.

When only one spouse of a married couple is applying for nursing home Medicaid or a HCBS Medicaid waiver, only the income of the applicant is counted. Said another way, the income of the non-applicant spouse is not counted towards eligibility purposes. For regular Medicaid (Aged Blind or Disabled), the income of both an applicant and non-applicant spouse is counted towards the applicant spouse’s eligibility. For additional information on how Medicaid considers income, click here.

For married couples in South Carolina, with non-applicant spouses’ (of a Medicaid waiver or nursing home applicant) with insufficient income in which to live, there is a Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA). This is the minimum amount of monthly income to which the non-applicant spouse may be entitled, and it allows applicant spouses to transfer a portion of their income to their non-applicant spouses. From January 2021 – December 2021, a non-applicant spouse may receive as much as $3,259.50 / month as a community spouse income allowance from his or her applicant spouse. This rule prevents non-applicant spouses from becoming impoverished. To be clear, non-applicant spouses of persons applying for regular Medicaid are not entitled to an income allowance from their applicant spouses.

*While there is an income limit of $2,382 / month (in 2021) per applicant for nursing home Medicaid, beneficiaries are not able to retain monthly income up to this level. Rather, all of their monthly income, minus a personal needs allowance of $30, and potentially, a monthly income allowance for a non-applicant spouse, must go towards the cost of nursing home care.

** The Aged Blind or Disabled income limits change in March of each year.


What Defines “Assets”

Countable assets include cash, stocks, bonds, investments, credit union, savings, and checking accounts, and real estate in which one does not reside. However, for the purposes of Medicaid eligibility, there are many assets that are considered exempt (non-countable). Exemptions include personal belongings, such as clothing and jewelry, household furnishings, one vehicle, burial funds (up to $1,500 for the applicant and up to $1,500 for the applicant’s spouse in 2021), cash value of life insurance plans (up to a total maximum of $10,000 in 2021), and one’s primary home, given one of two circumstances is met. 1) The Medicaid applicant lives in the home (or has intent to live there) and has a home equity interest under $603,000 (in 2021) or 2) A non-applicant spouse lives in the home. (Equity interest is the amount of the home’s value owned by the applicant).

For married couples, in 2021, the community spouse (the non-applicant spouse) can retain up to a maximum of $66,480 of the couple’s joint assets, as the chart indicates above. This, in Medicaid terminology, is called the Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA). As with the income allowance mentioned above, this resource allowance is only for non-applicant spouses of nursing home Medicaid applicants or applicants seeking home and community based services via a Medicaid waiver. Stated differently, this asset allowance does not extend to non-applicant spouses of regular Medicaid applicants.

Please make note, it’s important that one does not give away assets or sell them for under fair market value in an attempt to meet South Carolina’s Medicaid asset limit. Doing so can violate Medicaid’s 5-year look-back rule, a period of 60 months from the date of application in which all past asset transfers are reviewed. If one is found to be in violation of this rule, a penalty period in which the applicant is ineligible for Medicaid benefits will result.

 To be eligible for long-term care Medicaid in South Carolina, an applicant must have a functional need for such care. For nursing home Medicaid and many HCBS Medicaid waivers, a nursing facility level of care is required. Furthermore, for some program benefits, there may be additional eligibility criteria. For example, for home modifications, an inability to safely live at home without modifying the home might be necessary.


Qualifying When Over the Limits

For South Carolina elderly residents, aged 65 and over, who do not meet the eligibility requirements in the table above, there are other ways to qualify for Medicaid.

1) Qualified Income Trusts (QIT’s) – QIT’s, also called Miller Trusts, are special trusts for Medicaid applicants who are over the income limit (also known as the “Medicaid Cap” in South Carolina), but still cannot afford to pay for their long-term care. (For South Carolina Medicaid purposes, a Miller Trust is often simply called an Income Trust.) This type of trust offers a way for individuals with excess income to still qualify for long-term care Medicaid, as money deposited into a QIT does not count towards Medicaid’s income limit. In simple terms, one’s excess income (over the Medicaid Cap) is directly deposited into a trust, in which a trustee is named, giving that individual legal control of the money. The account must be irreversible, meaning once it has been established, it cannot be changed or canceled, and must have the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services listed as the remainder beneficiary. In addition, the money in the account can only be used for very specific purposes, such as paying for long term care services / medical expenses accrued by the Medicaid enrollee.

Unfortunately, Income Only Trusts do not assist one with extra assets in qualifying for Medicaid. Said another way, if one meets the income requirements for Medicaid eligibility, but not the asset requirement, the above option cannot assist one in reducing their extra assets. However, one can “spend down” assets by spending excess assets on ones that are non-countable, such as home modifications (wheelchair ramps, roll-in showers, and stair lifts), home improvements (replacing faulty electrical wiring, updating plumbing, and replacing old water heaters), vehicle modifications (wheelchair lifts, adaptive control devices, and floor modifications to allow one to drive from a wheelchair), prepaying funeral and burial expenses, and paying off debt.

 Our free spend down calculator can assist persons in determining if they might have a spend down, and if so, provide an estimate of the amount. Calculate your spend down.

2) Medicaid Planning – the majority of persons considering Medicaid are “over-income” or “over-asset” or both, but still cannot afford their cost of care.  For persons in this situation, Medicaid planning exists. By working with a Medicaid planning professional, families can employ a variety of strategies to help them become Medicaid eligible and protect their home from Medicaid’s estate recovery program.  Read more or connect with a Medicaid planner.


Specific South Carolina Medicaid Programs

1. South Carolina Community Choices Waiver – This wavier, also known as the Elderly and Disabled Waiver, provides assistance for elderly and disabled individuals who require a level of care consistent to that which is provided in a nursing home, but who wish to remain living in their own homes. A variety of benefits are available, including home modifications, adult day care, durable medical equipment, and assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as bathing, mobility, and eating.

2. South Carolina Community Supports – Intended for South Carolina residents who are intellectually disabled or have a related disability. Program participants are able to self-direct their own care, including hiring select relatives to provide personal care services. Other program benefits include home and vehicle modifications, personal emergency response systems, and respite care.


How to Apply for South Carolina Medicaid

To apply for Medicaid in South Carolina, seniors can apply online at Healthy Connections. Persons can also complete the required forms and return them to their local Healthy Connections county office. For Aged Blind or Disabled Medicaid, the forms can be found on this webpage, half way down the page. For nursing home Medicaid or home and community based services via a Medicaid waiver, the forms can be found on this webpage, at the bottom of the page. The application processing can be confusing, particularly since the application process varies based on which program a senior is applying. For Medicaid related questions or for assistance, persons can contact Healthy Connections at 888-549-0820.

Prior to submitting a Medicaid application for long-term care in South Carolina, it is imperative that seniors are certain that they meet all eligibility requirements, which are detailed above. Persons who have income and / or resources in excess of the limit(s) can benefit from Medicaid planning for the best chance of acceptance into a Medicaid program.  Learn more about Medicaid planning. To learn more about the long-term care Medicaid application process, click here.

Determine Your Medicaid Eligibility

Get Help Qualifying for Medicaid