Obamacare requires everyone to have health insurance. In more than half of the states in the country, that comes through an expansion of Medicaid, the joint federal-state program for the poor. Under a 1993 federal law, states can recoup the costs of Medicaid by seizing the property of deceased Medicaid recipients.
Protesters for the Expansion of Medicaid stand in front of the State House as the first day of the Alabama Legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP/Butch Dill)
With the vast expansion of who can enroll in Medicaid under Obamacare, that could mean significantly more property. Though The Washington Post called it "scary but improbable," the newspaper reported there are people who are concerned about it and that the federal government has not rejected it out of hand.
Before the expansion, it was an option rarely used, so there's little national data. But in Oregon, from July 2011 to June 2013, the state snatched $41 million in assets from about 8,900 people, the Post reported.
“If you’re receiving a public benefit and the state is trying to support you, you should give back if you are able,” Judy Mohr Peterson, Oregon’s Medicaid director, told the Post in explaining the reasoning.
But Oregon's Medicaid office opted to change its approach so people would not be afraid to sign up for expanded Medicaid.
“We needed to take another look at heath insurance coverage from the point of view of it not being a public benefit that’s voluntary,” Mohr Peterson said.
Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said they "recognize [the] importance of this issue and will provide states with additional guidance in this area soon.”
The Post found two people who were eligible for the expanded Medicaid but were afraid to do so.
“I was leaning toward not getting Medicaid, because there is somewhat of a stigma,” said Steve Olin, 60, a former copy editor from Eureka, Ill. “Then, when I heard about the estate recovery, I was really sure.”
A 54-year-old former lawyer from New York City, who requested anonymity, owns an $850,000 apartment in the city that she hopes to leave to a family member.
“I don’t want my assets to be raided after my death,” she said. “The idea that someone can come after my house after I die — I just can’t do it.”
The Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is for people earning 138 percent of the poverty level, or $15,900 for an individual with no dependents.
Out of a concern over exploding Medicaid costs, Congress passed a law in 1993 that states must try to recover money from the estate of people who used Medicaid for long-term care. It further gave states the option to target the estate of all Medicaid recipients for any benefits they received after routine care.
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