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Medicaid Specialist vs. Elder Law Attorney

Written by Angelike Gaunt
 about the author
6 minute readLast updated March 29, 2023

Applying for Medicaid can be frustrating, as it is a complex and often lengthy process. Seeking an expert’s assistance can help you feel more confident that your loved one’s application will be approved. Both Medicaid specialists and elder law attorneys can provide invaluable guidance throughout the planning and application processes, but there are some important factors for you to consider when choosing who to hire.

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Do you need help with your Medicaid application? Learn more about whether you should hire an elder law attorney or Medicaid specialist to ensure you get coverage.
As part of the transition of seniors from short-term to long-term care, families will typically apply for Medicaid on behalf of their parent (acting as their proxy) in order to secure a long-term payor source for 24-hour skilled nursing care. Inevitably, Medicare is synonymous with short-term rehab only.
Medicare is finite and only allocates up to 100 days of in-patient skilled rehab, and is based upon specific conditions and criteria. However, Medicaid is considered to be the go-to long-term payor source for all residents living in a nursing home, because they cover long-term custodial care. In securing Medicaid there are financial and clinical criteria to determine eligibility which sometimes requires a private pay ‘spend-down’ period. Thereafter, your parent would be considered ‘Medicaid pending,’ which is the period during which the Medicaid application has been successfully submitted to the state, but not yet fully executed by the state.
In order for the application to be considered ‘pending,’ it must be correctly done and submitted, without any anticipated difficulties and/or penalties which would preclude your parent from qualifying once the state takes a close look at the documents. To this end, families will often require help from a specialist who is versed in the minutiae and tedious nuances of various state mandates, ‘look-backs,’ information gathering, etc.
There are two types of facilitators in the field of Medicaid applications: Elder law attorneys and Medicaid specialists — and families have the ability to choose one over the other.

What is an elder law attorney?

The practice of elder law is a specialty practice that encompasses a broad understanding of aging and the law, and the interplay between the varied issues which may affect the elderly.
Elder attorneys address a multitude of needs and issues, including:
  • Guardianships, proxies, power of attorney (including financial and clinical)
  • Healthcare surrogates and proxies
  • Planning for long-term Care, Medicare enrollments, Medicaid applications, miller trusts (QIT)
  • Durable power of attorney and other legal designations
  • Healthcare surrogates and decision makers
  • Special accounts and trusts for individuals with disability
  • Revocable and irrevocable trusts
  • Issues of elderly abuse, neglect, and exploitation

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What is a Medicaid specialist?

A Medicaid specialist is usually employed by a firm that specializes in the emerging niche market of facilitating Medicaid eligibility for elderly people. They coordinate the entire effort to procure the requisite documentation which the state requires and actually applies for Medicaid on behalf of the resident.
The Medicaid specialist is typically not an elder attorney and will therefore not specialize in (or otherwise pursue) estates, trusts, and other such matters concerning the elderly.
Instead, they focus exclusively on applying for Medicaid on behalf of their clients and on following up with the often time-consuming process of seeing the application through to its successful conclusion.

A word regarding Medicaid pending

As mentioned earlier, Medicaid pending to refer to the transitional period between Medicare and Medicaid. As mentioned earlier, this is when the Medicaid application has already been submitted to the state but the state has not yet reviewed, processed and executed the paperwork.
Families will find that many (if not most) nursing facilities, will not entertain a Medicaid pending admission. This is because of two factors:
First, during this period, the facility does not receive any reimbursement from the state because the state does not yet agree that this individual is a Medicaid recipient. Therefore, aside from the facility’s legal obligation to collect the resident’s Social Security income, they do not otherwise receive payment for this resident and are essentially footing the bill for free.
Once the state does process the Medicaid application and provides the newly minted resident with approval (and a Medicaid number), they will reimburse the nursing home retroactively back to the date of the Medicaid pending transition. However, the fact that the facility must wait for payment isn’t something most facilities are keen on.
Second, during the Medicaid pending period, there is never any guarantee that the application will be approved retroactively once the state takes a closer look. In fact, the state may find a discrepancy or an issue which will defer eligibility and they will not pay the nursing home for the time in between. Therefore, there is a risk to the nursing home in every Medicaid pending admission that something may go awry in the actual processing of the application. Most nursing facilities are unwilling to entertain this risk.

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Medicaid specialist or elder attorney? Who to use?

Because of the aforementioned points regarding Medicaid pending admissions and/or transitions, it becomes even more vital to ensure that you work diligently to submit the Medicaid application properly.
For many people, this is difficult to accomplish alone and they prefer to work with a professional to see the application through to its conclusion.
An additional benefit to engaging with a specialist or attorney is that this is deemed to be one of the proper methods for ‘spending down’ of one’s assets as a pre-condition for achieving eligibility. (For instance, in the state of New Jersey where Regency Nursing and Post-acute Rehabilitation Centers operate, in order for the resident to qualify financially, he or she is allowed up to $2,000 in remaining cumulative assets.)
Because there are only several ‘allowable’ divestments of assets (of which hiring an attorney or specialist is considered one of them), it is often a no-brainer to hire a specialist to do the application, when there is money left to spend (the proverbial “killing two birds with one stone”).
So now you ask, well, which of the two should I use?
Excellent question!
There are benefits inherent in using each of these two different business models and much of it will be subjective and personal.
Here are a few of the differences for your considerations:
Elder lawyers offer a robust array of services including Medicaid applications, in the event that you wish to use one vendor for all of your senior planning.
Medicaid specialists are often more competitively priced than attorneys and will also offer varied payment options and packages, including a flat fee per application and an hourly fee for consultation and implementation. Therefore, depending on the severity of the case, folks will do better financially by choosing one over the other.
In all instances, however, it is vital that you conduct proper research and do your due diligence before making an important decision of this magnitude.


Meet the Author
Angelike Gaunt

Angelike Gaunt is a content strategist at OurParents. She’s developed health content for consumers and medical professionals at major health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Kansas Health System. She’s passionate about developing accessible content to simplify complex health topics.

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