Medicaid’s Medically Needy (MN) Pathway to Eligibility: Income & Asset Limits

Last updated: November 08, 2021

 

Overview of the Medicaid Medically Needy Pathway

Medicaid extends medical coverage to several groups of low-income persons. This includes children, pregnant women, adults under 65, people with disabilities, and the elderly (65+). Within each group, there are various pathways to Medicaid eligibility. Some of these pathways are mandatory, such as the categorical “old age or disability” pathway. Other pathways are optional, which allow states to extend Medicaid coverage to persons who would otherwise not be Medicaid-eligible. The medically needy pathway is one such pathway. This pathway allows persons who are categorically eligible for Medicaid (i.e., elderly), but not financially eligible, to qualify for Medicaid (including long-term care) by spending “excess” income on medical expenses.

Given the medically needy pathway is optional, not all states offer it. If a state chooses to offer the medically needy pathway, it does not have to be available to all Medicaid coverage groups. The only groups that a state must include in this pathway, if they choose to utilize it, is pregnant women and children under 18. To be clear, if a state has a medically needy pathway, it is not required to cover seniors. Furthermore, if the medically needy pathway is available to seniors, it is not required that it cover all long-term care Medicaid programs for which a senior might apply.

Some states use the medically needy pathway only for regular state plan Medicaid, sometimes called Aged, Blind and Disabled (ABD) Medicaid. Other states use it for ABD, but also extend this pathway to eligibility to Nursing Home Medicaid and HCBS (home and community based services) Medicaid Waivers. Missouri is a notable exception and uses the medically needy pathway for regular state Medicaid and nursing home Medicaid, but not for HCBS Medicaid waivers.

The focus of this article is strictly on the elderly, and therefore, the information contained below is relevant for this population.

 

Definition: What is the Medically Needy Pathway?

The medically needy pathway is an alternative pathway to Medicaid eligibility for seniors who have income over Medicaid’s income limit, yet also have high medical expenses. Essentially, a senior can qualify for Medicaid by spending “excess” income on their medical expenses. Often called a medically needy plan or an income spend down program, this program also goes by a variety of state-specific names. For instance, in Illinois, it is called the Medical Spenddown Program, and in New York, it is called the Medicaid Excess Income Program.

 

How Does the Medically Needy Pathway Work?

To qualify via the medically needy pathway, seniors must “spend down” their “excess” income, or lower their countable income, by paying medical expenses until a state specified medically needy income limit (MNIL) is met. The MNIL might have a state-specific name. For example, in Louisiana, it is called the Medically Needy Income Eligibility Standard (MNIES).

The amount of income that must be “spent down” before Medicaid eligibility is established can be thought of as a deductible. Based on one’s state of residence, this may be called a “share of cost”, “patient pay amount”, “patient pay liability”, or “copay”. Regardless of the name, one’s “spend down” amount is calculated based on the state’s medically needy income limit and the elderly individual’s income level. If one’s income is greater than their medical expenses, they will not qualify for Medicaid.

Each state has a spend down period, which ranges from 1 – 6 months. Once the “spend down” has been met for the period, the individual is eligible for Medicaid coverage for the remainder of the spend down period. To be clear, a senior must re-qualify for Medicaid for each spend down period. This means that a senior might qualify for Medicaid during some spend down periods and be Medicaid-ineligible for other spend down periods.

• Example 1:

In Florida, the MNIL is $180 / month for a single senior applicant. If an applicant has a monthly income of $690, the “spend down” amount is $510 / month ($690 – $180 = $510). Florida has a 1-month spend down. This means the senior must have $510 / month in medical expenses in any given month before becoming Medicaid-eligible.

• Example 2:

In West Virginia, the MNIL is $200 / month for a single elderly applicant. The spend down period is 6 months. If the individual has $810 / month in income, the spend down is $3,660 ($810 – $200 = $610 x 6 months = $3,660). Once it has been met, the individual will be eligible for Medicaid for the remainder of the 6-month spend down period.

Some states, such as Illinois, New York, and Missouri, offer an alternative option to providing medical expenses to meet one’s “spend down”. These states allow what is called a “pay-in spenddown”. This allows a senior to pay the spenddown amount directly to the state Medicaid agency each spend down period.

 Not all states allow a medically needy pathway for Medicaid eligibility. However, some states, which are called “income cap” states, allow another way for seniors who are over the income limit to still qualify for nursing home Medicaid or home and community based services via a Medicaid waiver. This is through the use of Miller Trusts, also called Qualified Income Trusts. Learn more here.

 

What are Allowable Medical Expenses?

In all states, Medicare payments and other health insurance premiums are allowable ways to “spend down” one’s income on medical expenses. Other allowable expenses are state-specific and may include physician / dental bills, hospital services, prescription drugs, medical supplies / equipment prescribed by one’s doctor, nursing home services, eyeglasses, in-home medical care / personal care, therapies (physical, speech, occupational), transportation to / from medical care, and chiropractor services.

Proof of medical expenses must be provided and may include receipts, medical bills, money orders, or cancelled checks.. Even if the Medicaid applicant was not the one to pay a medical bill, say an adult child or friend paid the bill, it may be possible to use the receipt towards one’s spend down. In some cases, medical expenses accrued by one’s non-applicant spouse may be applied to one’s spend down. Medical bills do not necessarily have to be paid for one to meet their spenddown

 

Which States Have a Medically Needy Pathway?

The states that allow the medically needy pathway for seniors in one capacity or another include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

 

Medically Needy Income Limits by State

The income limits for the medically needy pathway are generally very low, which means an applicant often must have a significant amount of medical expenses to qualify via this pathway. All of the states listed below have a medically needy pathway for the regular Aged, Blind and Disabled (ABD) state Medicaid program and the income limits listed below are relevant for this program.

In states that offer a medically needy pathway to nursing home Medicaid, an applicant is generally not able to retain a monthly income up to the level listed below. This is because with just a few exceptions, such as a personal needs allowance, which varies by state (approx. $30 – $200), all of one’s monthly income goes to the nursing home towards the cost of care.

The states with an asterisk next to them indicate the states that limit the medically needy pathway to Aged, Blind and Disabled Medicaid. Missouri should also be mentioned, as the state uses the medically needy pathway for regular state Medicaid and nursing home Medicaid, but not for HCBS Medicaid waivers. While Tennessee has a medically needy pathway, it is not available to the elderly.

 While many states extend the medically pathway to Nursing Home Medicaid and HCBS Medicaid Waivers, the financial rules for a married couple in which only one spouse is an applicant differs from regular ABD Medicaid. For ABD Medicaid, the income of a non-applicant spouse is calculated towards the applicant spouse’s income eligibility, but for nursing home Medicaid and HCBS waivers, the income of a non-applicant spouse is not calculated towards the income eligibility of the applicant spouse. Learn more about how Medicaid counts income here. In addition, a non-applicant spouse of a nursing home Medicaid applicant or HCBS waiver applicant may be entitled to a monthly maintenance needs allowance (income allowance) from the applicant spouse.

 

Medicaid Medically Needy Income Limits (MNIL) by State for 2021
State Medically Needy Income Limit (the first figure is for an individual and the second figure is for a couple)
*Arkansas $108.33 / $216.66
California $600.00 / $934.00
Connecticut MNIL varies by geographic region – these figures include an unearned income disregard
Northern, Eastern & Western CT $885.00 / $1,125.90
Southwestern CT $995.00 / $1,234.90
District of Columbia $689.54 / $725.83
*Florida $180.00 / $241.00
*Georgia $317.00 / $375.00
Hawaii $469.00 / $632.00
Illinois $1,073.00 / $1,452.00
*Iowa $483.00 / $483.00
Kansas $475.00 / $475.00
*Kentucky $235.00 / $291.00
Louisiana $100.00 / $192.00
Maine $315.00 / $341.00
Maryland $350.00 / $392.00
Massachusetts $522.00 / $650.00
Michigan $1,073.00 / $1,452.00
Minnesota $870.00 / $1,177.00
Missouri $913.00 / $1,234.00
Montana $525.00 / $525.00
Nebraska $392.00 / $392.00
New Hampshire $591.00 / $675.00
*New Jersey $367.00 / $434.00
New York $884.00 / $1,300.00
North Carolina $242.00 / $317.00
North Dakota $891.00 / $1,205.00
Pennsylvania $425.00 / $442.00
Rhode Island $950.00 / $992.00
Utah $1,073.00 / $1,452.00
Vermont MNIL varies by geographic region
Outside Chittenden County $1,100.00 / $1,100.00
Inside Chittenden County $1,191.00 / $1,191.00
Virginia MNIL varies by geographic region – these figures last increased July 2021
Group 1: $336.50 / $428.38
Group 2: $388.27 / $478.40
Group 3: $504.76 / $608.52
Washington $794.00 / $794.00
West Virginia $200.00 / $275.00
Wisconsin $1,073.33 / $1,451.67

*Medically needy pathway is limited to Aged, Blind and Disabled Medicaid

 To see regular (non-medically needy pathway) state-specific income and asset limits by long-term care Medicaid program, click here.

 

Medically Needy Asset Limits by State

Medicaid also has an asset (resource) limit. While some states utilize the same asset limits as with their other Medicaid programs, other states set specific medically needy resource levels. Specific to nursing home Medicaid and HCBS Medicaid waivers, there is a 60-month look back period. This prohibits applicants from transferring assets for less than fair market value. Violations result in a penalty period of Medicaid ineligibility.

 Medicaid considers the assets of a married couple, regardless of if one or both spouses are applicants, as jointly owned. This means all non-exempt (countable) assets are counted towards the asset eligibility. However, for nursing home Medicaid and HCBS Medicaid waivers, a non-applicant spouse is allowed to keep a larger portion of the couples’ assets. This is called a community spouse resource allowance.

 

Medicaid Medically Needy Asset Limits by State for 2021
State Limit (the first figure is for an individual and the second figure is for a couple)
Arkansas $2,000 / $3,000
California $2,000 / $3,000
Connecticut $1,600 / $2,400
District of Columbia $4,000 / $6,000
Florida $5,000 / $6,000
Georgia $2,000 / $4,000
Hawaii $2,000 / $3,000
Illinois $2,000 / $3,000
Iowa $10,000 / $10,000
Kansas $2,000 / $3,000
Kentucky $2,000 / $4,000
Louisiana $2,000 / $3,000
Maine $2,000 / $3,000
Maryland $2,500 / $3,000
Massachusetts $2,000 / $3,000
Michigan $2,000 / $3,000
Minnesota $3,000 / $6,000
Missouri $5,035 / $10,070
Montana $2,000 / $3,000
Nebraska $4,000 / $6,000
New Hampshire $2,500 / $4,000
New Jersey $4,000 / $6,000
New York $15,900 / $23,400
North Carolina $2,000 / $3,000
North Dakota $3,000 / $6,000
Pennsylvania $2,400 / $3,200
Rhode Island $4,000 / $6,000
Utah $2,000 / $3,000
Vermont $2,000 / $3,000
Virginia $2,000 / $3,000
Washington $2,000 / $3,000
West Virginia $2,000 / $3,000
Wisconsin $2,000 / $3,000

 

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