by Thomas D. Begley, Jr., CELA
Personal Injury attorneys must inquire as to whether their clients are receiving public benefits. Certain benefits are means-tested, so that if the client receives money directly those benefits are reduced or lost completely. This article will outline the common public benefits and indicate whether the receipt of a personal injury settlement will affect those benefits.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Supplement Security Income (SSI) is a means-tested federal program that provides income (a cash assistance grant) to certain aged (65 or over), blind, and persons with disabilities. If an individual has more than $2,000 of assets, he or she will lose SSI. Therefore, the receipt of a personal injury settlement will disqualify the plaintiff from SSI, unless the funds are placed in a Special Needs Trust.
Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)
This program is known as SSDI. It provides an income to disabled workers. It is an insurance program, not a welfare program. Receipt of a personal injury settlement will not affect the plaintiff’s SSDI.
Medicaid is a medical insurance program. There are many ways that individuals qualify for Medicaid. The vast majority of Medicaid recipients receive that benefit, because they are also receiving SSI. If they lose their SSI, they also lose their Medicaid. However, since the Affordable Care Act (ACA), millions of Americans now receive Medicaid regardless of whether or not they are disabled and regardless of whether they are receiving SSI.
For SSI-based Medicaid, there is an asset limit of $2,000. For ACA Medicaid, there is no resource limit. Therefore, receipt of a personal injury settlement by an SSI recipient will cause a loss of Medicaid. However, receipt of a personal injury settlement by a Medicaid recipient who obtained Medicaid through the ACA will not affect eligibility, except that the income from the settlement may push the income of the plaintiff above the income limits for eligibility under the ACA. The solution for an individual receiving SSI-linked Medicaid is a Special Needs Trust.
Medicaid Waiver Programs
Medicaid Waiver Programs are designed to provide Medicaid coverage for long-term care services. These services are typically delivered in the home or assisted living facilities. These services are vital to catastrophically-injured individuals. These programs have an asset maximum of $2,000. Receipt of a personal injury settlement would disqualify the plaintiff from Medicaid Waiver services, unless the funds are placed in a Special Needs Trust.
Medicare is a program that pays medical costs of eligible beneficiaries. Unlike Medicaid, which is a welfare program, Medicare is an insurance program. Receipt of a personal injury settlement will not affect Medicare eligibility.