SAGE of the Rockies fights Medicaid woes for LGBT seniors

February 6, 2012 | 12:00 am
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 5:58 pm)

A new movement is on the rise to protect Colorado LGBT elders, who face financial hurdles with Medicaid as their partners transition into assisted living and nursing homes. Local advocates at SAGE of The Rockies, a program for edlers at The GLBT Community Center, are trying to incorporate new language into the state’s Medicaid laws to give seniors in same-sex relationships equal rights.

“It’s totally unfair. If we had equality in marriage, then all of those laws would be taken care of,” said Carol Wiser, 72 who volunteers at The Center on East Colfax in Denver.

Medicaid is a form of financial aid that is given to seniors when they no longer have money or assets to pay for their own long-term health care. When an individual applies for Medicaid, the state considers the financial need of each case – much like a student applying for a college loan.

It all boils down to certain provision in Medicaid called the Spousal Impoverishment Protection Law that doesn’t recognize elderly same-sex couples who have combined assets.

“We’re going to be contacting the (state) Medicaid director to see what kind of language can be changed,” said Rene Hickman, an intern at SAGE who is also a certified nurse assistant and has worked with the elderly for 12 years.

The issue SAGE has with the current Medicaid law is the way shared financial assets are recognized for married couples and non-married couples.

The spousal impoverishment language protects heterosexual couples’ joint assets when one spouse falls ill with a long-term disease such as Alzheimer’s, by considering only one person’s worth, including social security and pensions, which allows the non-ill spouse to continue to live at home.

Since LGBT couples are not “spouses” under the law, their shared assets can be viewed as combined by Medicaid – regardless of whether one person no longer has an income or social security – and they are at risk of not getting approved for long-term financial aid through Medicaid.

Most long-term care facilities in Colorado cost between $2,000 – $6,050 a month per person, according to Genworth Financial’s 2011 Cost of Care Survey.

SAGE is well aware of the monthly costs that seniors endure.
“Under Medicaid, if you’re a straight couple and you place somebody in a nursing home, you have protections under the law that protect their home, that protect their assets and protect a certain amount of money,” said Shari Wilkins, SAGE of the Rockies coordinator. “As a gay couple, because we’re not recognized as a couple under law, those protections don’t apply. So you really get into situations where you have to burn through both incomes to get into a place unless you abandon your partner. Or unless you keep everything separate.”

That means that combining assets as a LGBT couple could come back and hurt partners while in the golden years of life, which is why SAGE has partnered with many health officials and lawyers surrounding the issue.

To help educate the public about these issues, Sage has conducted training seminars the Denver Regional Council of Government, district attorney offices, doctors, in-home care providers and charities about the differences in care for elders and also the legal impact for them without union recognition, Wilkins said.

She’s confident that SAGE will be successful in changing the Medicaid language to help the aging LGBT community.

“Watching the hope and discovery is just an amazing process,” Wilkins said about the SAGE movement.

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