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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
Senior Voice Archives

October 5, 1999: Medicare vs. Private Plans; Nursing Home "Fiascos"

Q: I am beginning to get solicitations about opting out of medicare and joining various private plans where I still can select my own caregivers and coverage options. Do I have to decide by November as stated in the material or is this just sales pressure?

A: I wrote about your various choices in a previous Senior Voice column. Although you can enroll any time under legislation passed in 1997, many plans will only let you join in November of each year. The statute was designed to give you a choice in medical coverage, besides Medicare, so you might seek coverage with more benefits and/or more flexible health-giver choices.

All the material I have read seems to make the same basic points if you change, be certain that your "fees" and desired benefits are locked in for at least several years so you will not have any unhappy surprises by unilateral changes by the new company and if you have supplemental coverage with Medicare, keep the policy at least for a while, so if you return to Medicare, you would still qualify and have the old rates under that policy.

The good news/bad news is that if you do decide to leave Medicare, you can always return but you will not be able to do so for two years. So do not make a decision in haste just to meet a cut off date.

Q: Can a nursing home go after anything if an asset is held in joint tenancy between a resident of the facility and a non-spouse and if the income is reported using that other party's social security number:

A: The part owned by the nursing home resident (in this case half) could be claimed by the nursing home. Reporting of income using only one social security number is very common and is done so that the financial institution will simply report all income on that number reduces accounting and paperwork. It is up to the owners to divide the reported income for tax purposes. The arrangement really does not affect any legal rights.

Joint tenancy with right of survivorship is only important to pass title so that upon death of one, total ownership ends up completely in the survivor's name. Joint tenancy does not change the fact that each person owns fifty percent of the total asset and thus in this case each individual's share of the property could be affected by not only the nursing home, but a divorce, bankruptcy, judgments, etc, involving that person.

I do wish to acknowledge that there are arguments that can be made to the contrary. But over the years I have never seen them prevail at either the IRS hearing level or in tax court.

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