By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – Thousands of Californians who previously did not qualify are now eligible for certain Medi-Cal programs under increased asset limits that went into effect this month.
The increase raised the asset limit for individuals from $2,000 to $130,000, making it possible for many Californians who are older adults or living with disabilities to qualify for Non-Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) Medi-Cal and keep a larger share of their assets. The asset limit increases based on household size, with the limit increasing from $195,000 for a household of two people to $260,000 for a household of three people.
With the increase that took effect July 1, the Department of Health Care Services told The Center Square it estimates more than 22,000 additional residents now qualify for Medi-Cal. As of November 2021, more than 14.4 million Californians were eligible for Medi-Cal, according to DHCS data.
Non-MAGI Medi-Cal uses different rules to determine eligibility than MAGI Medi-Cal, which bases eligibility on income and tax rules. Non-MAGI Medi-Cal counts property, household income and size to determine if someone is qualified. The program typically provides health care for older adults, people with disabilities and those living in nursing facilities, according to the Department of Health Care Services.
The increased asset limit means older adults and people with disabilities will no longer be deterred from keeping a savings to qualify for Medi-Cal, Tiffany Huyenh-Cho, a senior staff attorney with Justice in Aging, told The Center Square.
“Older adults and people with disabilities that are served by these programs no longer have to choose between having additional savings or having health insurance through Medi-Cal,” Ms. Huyenh-Cho said. “You no longer have to spend down your assets to get below that $2,000 limit for a single person.”
Prior to this asset increase, many older adults were facing a “senior cliff,” which occurred when someone would qualify for expansion Medi-Cal programs up until the age of 65 and would then be moved to programs that imposed an asset test.
Ms. Huyenh-Cho said that this posed a problem for older adults who, even if they went just $1 over the asset limit, could no longer qualify for Medi-Cal. Thus, many were forced to choose between saving for future economic uncertainty or having health insurance through Medi-Cal.
“It really did hinder people’s ability to save,” Ms. Huyenh-Cho said. “It put older adults at risk of financial instability or homelessness if a financial crisis would happen.”
The increase in asset limits is the first of a two-phase change coming to Non-MAGI Medi-Cal programs. Come January 1, 2024, California will eliminate the asset limit for the programs, resulting in 14,400 more people qualifying for Medi-Cal, DHCS estimates.
The second phase is subject to federal approval, but DHCS says they are confident they will receive full federal approval for 2024.