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Financial help for Montana Medicare enrollees

Montana's Medicaid estate recovery does not apply to Medicaid expansion enrollees

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As a Medicare beneficiary, where you live – meaning your state of residence – can have a significant impact on the care that you receive and how you pay for that care during your “golden years.” This page explains how Montana’s regulations and policies are likely to affect your bottom line.

Does Montana help with my Medicare premiums?

Many Medicare beneficiaries who struggle to afford the cost of Medicare coverage are eligible for help through a Medicare Savings Program (MSP). In Montana, these programs pay for Medicare Part B premiums, Medicare Part A and B cost-sharing, and – in some cases – Part A premiums.

  • Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB): The income limit is $1,063 a month if single or $1,437 a month if married. QMB pays for Part A and B cost sharing, Part B premiums, and – if a beneficiary owes them – it also pays their Part A premiums.
  • Specified Low Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB):  The income limit is from QMB levels up to $1,276 a month if single or $1,724 a month if married. SLMB pays for Part B premiums.
  • Qualified Individuals (QI): The income limit is from SLMB levels up to $1,436 a month if single or $1,940 a month if married. QI pays for Part B premiums.
  • Qualified Working Disabled Working Individuals (QDWI): The income limit is $2,126 a month if living alone and $2,873 a month if living with one other person. QDWI pays the Part A premiums (but not Part B premiums) owed by certain disabled beneficiaries who have returned to work.

MSP asset limits: The asset limit for QMB, SLMB and QI is $7,860 if single and $11,800 if married in Montana.

Montana doesn’t count the first $20 of an applicant’s unearned income (e.g. Social Security or pensions) when determining their eligibility for an MSP, Medicaid for the aged, blind and disabled (ABD) and Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS).

The income and asset limits for QMB, SLMB and QI vary based on an applicant’s marital status. But in most states, eligibility rules for QDWI, Medicaid ABD and Long Term Services and Supports programs vary based on the number of household members (and not marriage status).

Who's eligible for Medicaid for the aged, blind and disabled in Montana?

Medicare covers a great number 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 Medicaid for the aged, blind and disabled.

Income eligibility: The income limit is $783 a month if single and $1,175 a month if married. (This is the same income limit as Supplemental Security Income.)

Asset limits: The asset limit is $2,000 if single and $3,000 if married.

Medicaid spend-down for Medicaid for the aged, blind and disabled in Montana

Applicants who are over-income for Medicaid for the aged, blind and disabled can qualify for Medicaid by enrolling in Montana’s Medicaid spend-down program.

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When an applicant is approved for the spend-down, Medicaid calculates the portion of their monthly income above the program’s income limit – which is known as “excess income.” Enrollees activate their spend-down coverage by submitting medical bills equal to this amount. In Montana, the Medicaid spend-down is usually approved for one month increments, with the submission of additional medical expenses required for further coverage.

An applicant’s excess income is reduced what they have to pay for health insurance and Medicare premiums.
In Montana, the Medicaid spend-down does not cover Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS).

Income eligibility: The income limit is $525 a month for both single and married applicants (as of 2018).

Asset limits: The asset limit is $2,000 if single and $3,000 if married.

How does Montana regulate long-term services and supports (LTSS)?

Medicare beneficiaries increasingly rely on long-term services and supports (LTSS) – or long-term care – which is mostly not covered by Medicare. In fact, 20 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who lived at home received some assistance with LTSS in 2015. Medicaid fills this gap in Medicare coverage for long-term care, but its complex eligibility rules can make qualifying for benefits difficult. What’s more – eligibility rules vary significantly from state to state.

Medicaid nursing home coverage

Income limits: The applicant’s income must be equal to or less than the cost of nursing home care. Usually only income of the spouse who needs nursing home care is counted.

However, nursing home enrollees must pay nearly all their income each month toward their care, other than a small personal needs allowance (of $50 a 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 $4,000 if married (and both spouses are applying). If only one spouse requires Medicaid, the other spouse can keep up to $128,640.

Certain assets are never counted, including many household effects, family heirlooms, certain prepaid burial arrangements, and one car. Enrollees can’t have more than $595,000 in home equity.

Home and Community Based Waiver (HCBS) services

Every state’s Medicaid program covers community-based long-term care services. Programs that pay for this care are called Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waivers. Recipients continue living in the community, rather than entering a nursing home. In Montana, applicants must need a nursing home level of care.

Income limits: The income limit is $783 a month if single. If a married couple is applying, the combined income limit is $1,566 a month (each spouse is allowed up to $783 a month).

Asset limits: The asset limit is $2,000 if single and $4,000 if married (and both spouses are applying). If only one spouse requires Medicaid, the other spouse can keep up to $128,640. HCBS enrollees can’t have more than $595,000 in home equity.

Spousal impoverishment protections in Montana

Eligibility rules for Medicaid LTSS programs differ from other Medicaid benefits when only one spouse is applying. When this occurs, only the applying spouse’s income is counted. (Normally with Medicaid benefits, the income of both spouses is counted – regardless of who is applying.)

Spousal impoverishment rules allow community spouses of Medicaid LTSS recipients to keep a Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA) from their Medicaid spouse’s monthly income.

In Montana in 2020, these spousal impoverishment rules allow community spouses to keep:

Medicaid home equity limit in Montana

Federal law requires states to limit eligibility for Medicaid nursing home care and HCBS to applicants with a home equity interest below a specific dollar amount. In 2020, states set this home equity level based on a federal minimum of $595,000 and maximum of $893,000.
Montana requires applicants for Medicaid LTSS to have no more than $595,000 in home equity.

Penalties for transferring assets in Montana

The high cost of long-term care means that some individuals attempt to “impoverish themselves” by giving away or transferring assets to qualify for Medicaid. To curb these asset transfers, federal law requires states to have a penalty period for applicants for Medicaid nursing home care who give away or transfer assets for less than their value. States can also have an asset transfer penalty for HCBS. Medicaid will not pay for LTSS during this period.

Montana has chosen to have an asset transfer penalty for nursing home care and HCBS. This penalty is based on a 60-month lookback period prior to receiving Medicaid (or entering a nursing home). The length of the penalty is calculated by dividing the amount of money transferred or given away by the cost of nursing home care (which is $242 a day in Montana in 2020).

Estate recovery in Montana

A state’s Medicaid agency is required to recover what it paid for LTSS and related medical costs while an enrollee was 55 or older. States can choose to also pursue estate recovery for costs that are unrelated to LTSS (and for enrollees who didn’t receive LTSS).

Montana has chosen to recover the cost of all Medicaid benefits paid for enrollees beginning at the age of 55. This means the state pursues estate recovery against enrollees who did not receive LTSS. However, the state does not use estate recovery to recoup costs for Medicaid expansion enrollees. This is important, as Montana expanded Medicaid under the ACA as of 2016, and more than 86,000 people — including many who are 55 or older — were enrolled under the expanded eligibility guidelines as of August 2020.

When an enrollee’s Medicaid coverage was administered by a Managed Care Organization (MCO) (ie, a private insurer with which the state contracts to administer Medicaid benefits), the state will attempt to recover what it paid the MCO. That means the estate recovery amount could be more (or less) than the actual cost of Medicaid services received. This means the state might pursue large recoveries from enrollees who used little medical care.

Montana appears to delay its estate recovery for enrollees who are outlived by a spouse or a child who is under 21 or disabled. The state would recover from the estate once the spouse died, or the child turned 21 (or was no longer considered disabled).

The state may also grant a hardship exemption from estate recovery under certain other circumstances.
Congress exempted Medicare premiums and cost sharing from Medicaid estate recovery starting with benefits paid after December 31, 2009, but Medicaid might try to recover what it paid for MSP benefits through that date.

Where can Medicare beneficiaries get help in Montana?

Montana State Health and Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

Free volunteer Medicare counseling is available by contacting the Montana State Health and Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at 1-800-551-3191.

The SHIP can help beneficiaries enroll in Medicare, compare and change Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, and answer questions about state Medigap protections. SHIP counselors may also be able to offer referrals to local agencies for services like home care and long-term care. The SHIP’s website has more information on the services it offers.

Elder Law Attorneys

Elder law attorneys can help individuals plan for Medicaid long-term care benefits. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has a search feature beneficiaries can use to find an elder attorney locally.

Montana Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs)

Medicare beneficiaries in Montana can receive assistance from an Area Agency on Aging (AAA). These organizations can provide counseling about services that help with aging or living with a disability, and with planning for long-term care needs. Here is a list of AAAs in Montana.

Where can I apply for Medicaid in Montana?

Medicaid is administered by the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) in Montana. Seniors and people with disabilities can learn about applying for Medicaid on this website or by calling the Senior and Long Term Care Division at (406) 444-4077.


Josh Schultz has a strong background in Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. He coordinated a Medicare technical assistance contract at the Medicare Rights Center in New York City, and represented clients in extensive Medicare claims and appeals. In addition to non-profit work, Josh helped implement federal and state health insurance exchanges at the technology firm hCentive. He has also held consulting roles, including at Sachs Policy Group, where he worked on Medicare and Medicaid related client projects.

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