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This page describes resources available to Iowans to help pay for Medicare coverage. It also provides an overview of Medicaid programs to help qualifying applicants pay for long-term care, which Medicare doesn’t usually cover.
Many Medicare beneficiaries who struggle to afford the cost of Medicare coverage are eligible for help through a Medicare Savings Program (MSP). This program pays for Medicare Part B premiums, Medicare Part A and B cost-sharing, and – in some cases – Part A premiums.
Asset limits: Iowa uses the federal asset limits for QMB, SLMB and QI – which are $9,090 if single and $13,630 if married.
Medicare covers many services – including hospitalization, physician services, and prescription drugs – but Original Medicare doesn’t cover important services like vision and dental benefits. Some beneficiaries – those whose incomes make them eligible for Medicaid – can receive coverage for those additional services if they’re enrolled in regular Medicaid benefits for the aged, blind and disabled (ABD).
In Iowa, Medicaid ABD covers comprehensive dental care, including diagnostic and preventive services, fillings, root canals, dentures and crowns. Some – but not all – enrollees have to pay a monthly premium for this coverage.
Most Medicaid ABD enrollees in Iowa have transitioned to the Iowa Wellness Plan, which has a $1,000 annual benefit maximum for services that aren’t preventive, diagnostic or emergency in nature. That program requires some enrollees to pay premiums and satisfy “healthy behaviors” to receive full dental coverage.
Medicaid enrollees receive their dental benefits through the fee-for-service Medicaid program if they have a Medicaid spend-down, receive retroactive coverage, are enrolled in Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), or live in a nursing home.
Medicaid ABD also covers a yearly eye exam and pays for a pair of eyeglasses every two years. (Eyeglasses are covered more frequently for enrollees with medical conditions impacting the eye.)
Income eligibility: The income limit is $914 a month if single and $1,371 a month if married.
Asset limits: The asset limit is $2,000 if single and $3,000 if married.
In Iowa, applicants who have incomes greater than the eligibility limit for Medicaid can enroll in the Medicaid spend-down program. This benefit allows enrollees to qualify for Medicaid by subtracting medical and long-term care expenses from their income counted toward the Medicaid eligibility limit.
The amount that an applicant’s income exceeds the limit for Medicaid spend-down is known as “excess income.” Enrollees must activate their coverage by submitting incurred medical bills equal to this amount. Some states also allow enrollees to pay their excess income directly to Medicaid if they are unable to submit medical expenses.
In Iowa, coverage under the Medicaid spend-down lasts one month at a time. Enrollees have to submit additional medical expenses to receive further coverage.
The Medicaid spend-down program covers long-term care in Iowa.
Income limit: The income limit is $483 for both singles and couples
Asset limits: The asset limit is $10,000 for both single applicants and spouses.
Medicare beneficiaries who also have Medicaid, an MSP, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will receive Extra Help. This program lowers Medicare Part D prescription drug costs. When beneficiaries apply for this program themselves, the income limit is $1,843 a month for singles and $2,485 a month for couples. The asset limit is $16,660 for individuals and $33,240 for spouses.
Long-term care is an increasingly needed benefit in the U.S. given the aging population, but it is generally not covered under Medicare. However, Medicaid does cover long-term services and supports (LTSS) for people who meet eligibility requirements.
Most seniors who needed long-term care used to receive it in nursing homes. Today, more enrollees receive long-term care at home. But medical conditions or living situations can make nursing home care a better choice.
Income limits: The income limit is $2,742 a month if single and $5,484 a month if married (and both spouses are applying). Only income of the spouse who needs nursing home benefits is counted toward this limit.
Even though the income limit is $2,742 a month (if single), nursing home enrollees are not allowed to keep all of their income up to this limit. Instead, they have to pay all but a small portion of it toward their care, but can keep a small personal needs allowance (of $50 each month) and money to pay for health insurance premiums (such as Medicare Part B and Medigap).
Assets limits: The asset limit is $2,000 if single and $3,000 if married (and both spouses are applying). If only one spouse has Medicaid, federal rules allow the other to keep up to $148,620. Certain assets are never counted toward this asset limit, including many household effects, family heirlooms, certain prepaid burial arrangements, and one car.
Every state’s Medicaid program covers long-term care services called Home and Community-Based Waiver (HCBS) services. These services provide coverage for care provided to the beneficiary in a community setting (i.e., not in a nursing home). Applicants must show that they can live safely in their home or assisted living facility.
Income limits: The income limit is $2,742 a month if single and $5,484 a month if married (and both spouses are applying). When only one spouse needs HCBS, only income received by that spouse is counted toward this limit.
Asset limits: The asset limit is $2,000 if single and $3,000 if married (and both spouses are applying). Federal rules allow spouses who don’t have Medicaid to keep up to $148,620.
Normally with Medicaid benefits, the income of both spouses is counted for determining eligibility. However, Medicaid LTSS looks at just the applying spouse’s income.
Spousal impoverishment rules allow the non-applying or “community spouse” of a Medicaid LTSS recipient to keep a Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA) from their Medicaid spouse’s income.
In Iowa in 2022, spousal impoverishment rules allow community spouses to keep:
As an alternative to Medicaid spend-down, Iowa allows these applicants to become eligible for LTSS benefits by depositing income each month into a Qualified Income Trust, which is also called a “Miller Trust.”
Even though it is first deposited into the Miller Trust, nursing home enrollees must pay almost all of this income toward nursing home care. However, Iowa allows HCBS recipients to keep all their income up to the Medicaid eligibility limit as a personal needs allowance.
Medicaid applicants in Iowa can use a Miller Trust to qualify for Medicaid nursing home or HCBS benefits, but not regular Medicaid ABD (if they don’t also need long-term care Medicaid).
Iowa requires that applicants have incomes below 125% of the cost of institutional care in order to qualify for Medicaid long-term care using a Miller Trust. Individuals with higher incomes can usually afford those services without help from Medicaid.
Federal law requires states to limit the home equity of enrollees who receive Medicaid coverage for nursing home care or HCBS. States set these home equity levels based on a federal minimum of $688,000 and maximum of $1,033,000 in 2023.
In 2023, Iowa limits Medicaid LTSS applicants to a home equity interest of $688,000 or less.
Individuals sometimes give away or transfer assets to others so they can qualify for Medicaid LTSS benefits. To discourage asset transfers, federal law requires states to have a penalty period for Medicaid nursing home applicants who “gift” or transfer assets for less than market value, and allows states to use a penalty period for HCBS.
Iowa has a penalty period for HCBS and nursing home benefits. This penalty is based on a 60-month lookback period, when applicants aren’t allowed to make these asset transfers or gifts, and is calculated by dividing the amount of money transferred or given away by the private pay rate for nursing home care. (That rate is $7,786.35 per month in Iowa in 2023)
State Medicaid agencies must attempt to recover what they paid for LTSS and related medical expenses while an enrollee was 55 or older. States can also recover payments for all other Medicaid benefits, and recover from enrollees who didn’t receive long-term care. Estate recovery is sometimes called a claw back.
Iowa chooses to pursue estate recovery against all recipients of Medicaid-covered services who were 55 or older. This includes people aged 55 or older who were enrolled in Iowa’s ACA Medicaid expansion, the Iowa Health and Wellness Program. The state also recovers from the estates of beneficiaries under the age of 55 if they were permanently institutionalized.
When Medicaid coverage was administered by an insurer (called a Managed Care Organization), the state will attempt to recover what it paid that insurer. This amount could be more or less than the actual cost of Medicaid services received.
Iowa Medicaid may waive estate recovery in certain circumstances, including if inheritors of an estate have a monthly income below 200% of the federal poverty level or they have less than $10,000 in savings.
Free-of-charge Medicare enrollment help and counseling is available by contacting Iowa’s SHIP-SMP at 1-800-351-4664. This is the State’s Health Insurance Assistance Program. The program’s website lists the SHIP-SMP offices in each county.
Elder Law Attorneys
Elder law attorneys can assist individuals in accessing Medicaid long-term care benefits. Search for a local elder care attorney on the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) website.
Area Agencies on Aging
Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging provide information and services about the assistance programs available to older adults and people with disabilities.
This website contains a list of regional AAA offices in Iowa.