Eligibility, Benefits Figures Increase With Cost of Living


Each year Social Security benefits are raised automatically to keep up with the increased cost of living. Benefit increases are pegged to standard measures of inflation, and take effect on January 1. Social Security figures, however, are not the only automatic increases affecting seniors and the disabled.

Beginning January 1, 2002, Social Security beneficiaries will see their monthly checks go up by 2.6%. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will also see a 2.6% increase, with the largest federal checks going up to $545 (some but not all states contribute an additional amount to SSI benefits).

That SSI increase will have an indirect effect on Arizona nursing home residents. The Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS), Arizona’s Medicaid program for long-term care subsidies, is available only to those with incomes less than three times the maximum SSI benefit.

As a result ALTCS recipients with more than $1635 in monthly income will need to take additional steps to qualify for assistance. In most cases that will mean establishing a “Miller” Trust, though it may be more complicated for some long-term care recipients. Some ALTCS patients who have already established Miller Trusts may no longer need them if income has failed to keep up with the automatic increases.

Participants in the federal Medicare program will also see some increases in program numbers. Perhaps most importantly (or at least most immediately apparent) will be an increase in the Part B premium paid by Medicare beneficiaries. That premium is usually deducted from Social Security benefits, which means that a portion of the cost of living increase will be withheld from checks automatically. The Part B premium is slated to increase from $50 to $54 per month.

Other Medicare numbers will also change, with most of the changes pegged at 2.5% over 2001 figures. Increased figures will include the deductible for hospital stays (rising to $812 per month), and the coinsurance amount for nursing home stays between the 21st and 100th day of the stay (rising to $101.50 per day).

Some state government figures have also increased. Arizona annually calculates the average cost of nursing home care for purposes of determining whether gifts made by ALTCS applicants should disqualify them from coverage. In most cases the value of a gift is divided by the state-calculated figure to determine a period of months of disqualification. Arizona’s calculation of the average cost of care increased, effective October 1, 2001, to $3,540.67. In other words, if an ALTCS applicant gave $35,406.00 to his children in 2001, he would be ineligible for ALTCS for 9 months (the ineligibility period is rounded down). The figure for counties other than Pima, Pinal and Maricopa is lower, at $3,290.17.

It can be a chore to keep track of the regular changes in benefits levels and rates. At Elder Law Issues we will try to keep you current; let us know if there are other benefits figures you have difficulty locating.

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