Representative Barber Files Bill to Protect Families Receiving Long-Term Care Services

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New Bill Would Temporarily Halt MassHealth Estate Recovery during COVID Pandemic

BOSTON– Representative Christine P. Barber of Somerville and Medford has filed new legislation to protect the family members of people who have received long-term care services through MassHealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, partnering with Senator Jo Comerford of Northampton.

Current federal law requires MassHealth (the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program) collect its costs from estates of members who received long-term care services in nursing homes. Massachusetts is among one of the few states that goes beyond this mandate and collects money from all MassHealth recipients over age 55, regardless of whether they were in a nursing home.

The estate recovery process can be complex and technical for families to navigate. And, the strict deadlines set by estate recovery statute are extremely difficult for personal representatives and family members to meet, given the current pandemic. As a result, families of deceased individuals are struggling to gather the necessary information to defend against asset recovery claims in the time allowed. They are unable to safely empty their homes and ready it for sale, and face challenges finding places to safely relocate.

Rep. Barber’s bill, HD5144 An Act to address estate recovery issues due to COVID-19, temporarily halts the most problematic aspects of estate recovery during the COVID-19 state of emergency. This legislation would give families additional time to navigate the process, waive accumulating interest on the claim, and let descendants remain living in the family home.

“The current MassHealth estate recovery system places a tremendous burden on families already struggling to cope with the loss of loved ones, ” Rep. Christine Barber stated. “Especially during the COVID-19 crisis, with health and economic challenges facing so many, this legislation will alleviate some of the most harmful aspects of estate recovery, and allow surviving family members to remain in their homes.”

Local Somerville attorney, Michael R. Couture at Winston Law Group, LLC, has firsthand experience working with the complex MassHealth asset recovery process. “Estate Recovery can hit families hard when they are most vulnerable,” said Michael Couture. “The repayment process can come as a surprise and can have devastating effects – especially to low- and middle-income families. The COVID-19 pandemic and the government shutdown has amplified the problem. This bill will provide critical relief to families that have lost loved ones who are subjected to the Estate Recovery process.”

Representative Barber is working with Senator Comerford to advocate for a more just process to aid elders and their families throughout the Commonwealth, and are working to make these emergency changes to the MassHealth program.

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