Seniors needing nursing home care could lose the right to keep their homes and assets if a contingent of State Assembly members next months enacts legislation which would reform Medi-Cal, elder law expert Judd Matsunaga is warning.

The proposed legislation would require seniors in nursing homes to relinquish their home equity and other assets in order to lower their assets to a sufficiently low figure qualifying the seniors for Medi-Cal.

The California Department of Health Services withdrew the language the department was proposing in the state budget Monday, June 14th, after pressure from the State Senate Democratic leadership on the issue of requiring transfer of assets and annuity funds.

“The only people that will be hurt are the working and middle class seniors who own property and have saved up a nest egg with the hope of passing it on to their spouse or heirs,” Matsunaga said about the proposal.

Medicare doesn’t pay the high cost of nursing home care, which can wipe out life savings in a short time, but there are options with Medi-Cal that allow protection of exempt assets — homes and other assets — without “spending down” to $2,000 to qualify for Medi-Cal, he said.

Because of a newspaper article earlier in the year about “Millionaires on Medi-Cal, the State Assembly Budget Committee passed HB 2102 on May 5th, asking the Department of Health Services to provide the committee with some language to stop “the abuses” by these millionaires, said Matsunaga.

Matsunaga and the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform said it’s difficult to imagine a long line of millionaires signing over their fortunes to relatives just so they can avail themselves of Medi-Cal.

Seniors are penalized because Medicare won’t pay for their care and to qualify for Medi-Cal, they receive “spend down” instructions from Medi-Cal to deplete their assets to $2,000, he said.

Matsunaga said the issue is about aging, fate, and ending up with the wrong disease.

If seniors have cancer, heart disease or other illnesses that require acute care and which Medicare covers, the seniors are protected.

However, patients who need extended nursing care, such as for Alzheimer’s Disease, may spend $5,000 per month and are penalized because Medicare won’t pay for such services, he said.

Matsunaga and the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform claim that insurance companies and nursing home owners are pressuring state government to pass HR 2102.

“I want people to be aware of their legal rights and how they can use existing laws to protect themselves from catastrophic financial losses in the future,” said Matsunaga, who is associated with the law offices of Matsunaga and Associates and who has been an elder-care attorney for nine years.

“The time is now, before August, to contact your lawmakers and let them know that any legislation that could render their constituents penniless is not favorable,” said Matsunaga.

Information, (310) 348-7272, (800) 411-0546, or