Behind the Scenes: Qualifying for Public Benefits

Public benefits like Medicaid make it possible for millions of older Americans to pay for long-term care. Though the process to qualify for Medicaid differs by state, the experience of qualifying is considered to be a difficult one no matter where you live. That’s why the public benefits specialists in Life Care Planning Law Firms are always so busy.

How does a public benefits specialist help a family qualify an older relative for Medicaid? We posed this question to Hannah Robinson, a public benefits specialist at the Flammia Elder Law Firm, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Winter Park, Florida.

The process usually starts with a frantic phone call from a family member dealing with a crisis involving an older relative. It could be anything: a fall, an accident, a sudden illness, or the unwelcome news that the elder can’t live safely at home anymore. Those calls are immediately routed to Hannah, who creates a safe space for the family caregiver to share. After the family member has explained the situation, Hannah sets up a time for the family to meet with Kathleen Flammia, the firm’s founding attorney.

When the family decides to retain the firm, Hannah springs into action. Working from the information the family submitted, along with Kathleen Flammia’s notes, Hannah reviews the case and compiles a to-do list of information and documentation still needed from the client. She then creates in-house checklists for the client file, fills out the necessary forms for the Florida Department of Children and Families, and drafts the asset protection technique documents. Once all the documents are complete and have been reviewed by the attorney, Hannah schedules a time for the family to come to the office to sign everything. At that point, the Medicaid application is ready to be submitted. “There’s a tremendous amount of documentation needed to submit a Medicaid application,” says Hannah. “The process can be long, but the outcome is always worth it.”

In addition to collecting all the information needed for the Medicaid application, Hannah notifies the nursing home to let the staff know that she will be the contact person for any questions. “My goal is to take that stress off the client because most of the time they're completely overwhelmed,” Hannah says. “That’s why I handle all the interactions with the nursing home, including weekly updates about the status of the Medicaid application. I want the client to feel completely at ease.”

Though the desired end result—Medicaid paying for the elder’s nursing home care—is always the same, the amount of help each client needs can differ greatly. “When I came into this legal world, I couldn't even pronounce the word affidavit,” Hannah laughs, “so I know from the outside perspective that this is all a foreign language. I explain it to clients the way I would explain things to my own grandparents.”

Finding out that a Medicaid application was approved is often an emotional moment. “Many clients will cry and say, ‘I never thought this was possible’,” Hannah admits. “Almost everybody comes in afraid they won’t qualify, and I tell them, ‘Oh, you will. Just watch.’ It’s so rewarding to be able to connect people to a benefit that they didn’t think would be an option.”