Plan to recover assets left by Medi-Cal recipients is taken off the fast track

U.S.A. California


State relents; heirs get a break

Plan to recover assets left by Medi-Cal recipients is taken off the fast track.

By Clea Benson -- Bee Capitol Bureau

Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Schwarzenegger administration on Monday dropped a plan to immediately start collecting more of the assets of Medi-Cal recipients after they die.

In a victory for elderly recipients of the state's insurance for the poor, officials instead agreed to allow public comment on the proposed changes before putting them into effect.

In a settlement agreement, officials said they wanted to avoid a long legal battle with advocates who sued last month in San Francisco Superior Court.

The state will still press for changes, but will make them only after a public hearing and a public comment period, said Ken August, a spokesman for the Department of Health Services.

Officials originally announced last month that the state would immediately start seeking repayment from the heirs of Medi-Cal recipients who shelter their homes in life estates. Life estates allow people to transfer ownership of their houses while they are still alive.

Administration officials also said they would start demanding that heirs of Medi-Cal recipients repay the state for the cost of home-care services.

Federal law requires the state to recoup the cost of Medi-Cal benefits provided to people over 55 who die leaving assets.

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, an organization representing Medi-Cal beneficiaries, has been fighting an ongoing legal battle to get the state to write a set of clear, specific policies governing its collections.

When the administration attempted to enact new policies on an emergency basis last month, the organization sued again on the grounds that there was no emergency that should allow the state to get around the normal public comment period for new policies.

Pat McGinnis, director of CANHR, said she hoped members of the public would now try to persuade the administration to drop some proposed changes.

"We can only pressure the government to act in accordance with the law," she said. "We hope that consumer groups and consumers themselves will send in their comments and say how horrifying some of these provisions are."

The flap over the Medi-Cal rules was the third in recent months over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's use of emergency regulations. Emergency rules can be enacted without a hearing and are good for 120 days. The state must gather public comment to enact permanent regulations but can keep extending the emergency policies in the interim.

The California Nurses Association has sued the Republican governor over his attempt to allow higher hospital nursing workloads by enacting an emergency regulation.

And in response to protests from unions, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement in December retracted a proposed emergency rule changing the enforcement of lunch breaks.

A hearing on the proposed changes to the regulations governing Medi-Cal collections will be held in Sacramento on May 23.

To comment, members of the public can send e-mails to [email protected]. Letters can be sent to the California Department of Health Services, Office of Regulations, Mail Stop 0015, P.O. Box 997413, Sacramento, CA 95899-7413. The deadline for written comments is May 27.

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