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Applying for Medicaid — a major undertaking

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Those of us who have been fortunate enough not to need help from the state or federal government for food, housing, health insurance or energy assistance don't know what we're missing.

Applying for Medicaid is not just a chore, it's a major undertaking. I have paid my mother's bills, using her funds, for the past few years. She was forgetting to pay them on occasion, and so she agreed to let me take over that chore for her. Now that she is in rehabilitation from her stroke, we realize she will need to apply for Medicaid so that she can get into a nursing home — which will likely be her next phase in life. Since I've been involved in at least some of her paperwork, the job naturally falls to me. That's a good thing, because I haven't been able to help my sisters and brothers very much with my mother's day-to-day care. At least I can feel useful in being the go-to person when we need paperwork filed or records located.

If you've never filled one out before, you should know that Medicaid applications ask you for all kinds of personal records. Your birth certificate, your husband's death certificate, the equity in your home, the vehicles you own, your stocks and all of your bank statements for the past five years. This is a good thing, of course. It's important that the government knows all of your assets so it can determine if you qualify for help. But I imagine for many children who are trying to do this for their parents, it may not be easy to locate these records.

Luckily, we had copies of my mother's birth certificate, and my father's death certificate. It's been kind of a hassle trying to get records on the few stocks she owns, and what she owned five years ago, since I only have an end-of-the-year statement that the company sent to me after I changed my mother's address to my address when she moved out of her home in Florida. Since I don't own the stocks, they wanted what's called a "medallion copy" of my power of attorney in order to provide that for me. I hadn't wanted to confuse my mother by asking her to sign a letter to the company asking for this information, but we decided to do just that. We are working with the bank that will be taking back her house through reverse mortgage, hoping they will provide the proof she needs to show she no longer has any equity in the home. And although I paid her bills, I was not receiving her bank statements. Fortunately, since I was a co-signer on her bank account, I was allowed to ask for five years worth of statements. Her bank was very helpful, and sent those statements to me in a matter of days after I requested them.

Next week, my sister will bring all of these copies of documents to an organization called Service Link in New Hampshire. I have been on the telephone with a woman who works there several times, and she's answered countless questions that I have had about the process. Without her, I'm certain I would have filled out something wrong. My sister has an appointment with her next week. We should learn soon after that whether I need to come up with more documents to prove other things, or whether they plan to tell Medicaid that my mother should qualify. After this experience, I know what documents I'll be putting in my safety deposit box in case my kids ever have to go through this!

One other thing: I keep hearing that more people will be qualifying for Medicaid under the new Affordable Care Act, at least in states that decide to accept more funds from the federal government. I hope those states, too, have organizations like Service Link designed to help you wade through the paperwork!