Mark Harvey — We can do this

A couple of weeks ago, for a couple of weeks, I went on about paying for long-term care — in a nursing facility. It might be worth noting that there are also Medicaid-related programs for helping folks to receive “long-term care” at home, depending upon need, finances, etc, but we won’t go there today. It’s just too nice out.

Anyway, where we landed on all that was that, for a lot of us who might be struggling to figure out how to pay for nursing home care, where we’re going to land is Medicaid (not Medicare, Medicaid), and that can scare-the-heck out of some folks.

There is any number of reasons why intelligent people might be scared of Medicaid. There are things like “estate recovery” (“The State will take the house!” — M-a-y-b-e …) and assets and transferring assets and and and … All or some of which are, generally, over-blown or misunderstood; but, again, I’m not going to suck us all into that right now.

The FIRST thing that scares most people is something like, “… OMG! The PAPERWORK!” The second thing is usually something like having to deal with bureaucracies and bureaucrats and State agencies and Federal agencies and the “Mind Police” and flying monkeys and … WAIT A MINUTE!

I’ve never lied to you before and I’m certainly not going to start now. There is certainly paperwork/forms associated with getting someone qualified for Medicaid, but it often looks like more than it is — AND, a lot of that paperwork has been pretty severely simplified over the last 15 years, so those of us who have been dealing with this kind of thing since the demise of 8-track tapes need to get an updated view of reality; however, it can still be … daunting.

Here’s something we all need to remember: Lots of people have done this, and lots of people are doing it — today, so it is doable. One of the things that helps it to be “doable” is help; so, one thing you can do is call any of the numbers at the end of this column and decent people will help you, for free.

It is also true that plenty of folks get qualified for Medicaid all by themselves. The way they do that is to get the forms, sit down calmly, do the best they can at completing said forms, then being honest and forthcoming with the folks at DSHS (Department of Social & Health Services), and things usually go quite well, but this is where some of us explode into the “flying monkey” paranoia: “Those nasty bureaucrats don’t care about me/us, and they’re going to be rude and nosey and everything will be horrible!”

Not true. Check out this e-mail from a reader:

“Reading this … beginning essay on long-term care expenses, I wished to add a ‘good experience’ story to your file. Mother had been in long-term nursing care for many years (living longer than usual for dementia patients) and savings was running out, even at the extremely low (but with loving care) rate (southern Idaho). (Staff) sent me over to the social services, giving me name of man to work with. I was doing this on a visit from my home on the Washington Peninsula, so had to get as much done as possible in short time. He couldn’t have been more helpful. Gave me the large stack of paperwork, explained how it worked, discussed the timelines, answered all questions, and, as the home head had, kept reassuring me that there wouldn’t be a problem. Then he gave me phone numbers in Washington to call if ran into problems that needed face-to-face help.

“As it happened, I’d just begun digging up information and filling out papers when Mom died, with three months payments still in her bank account, so didn’t need to continue. However, for all the problems one hears about re: uncaring and arrogant staff, I’ve nothing but praise for my experiences. (Suppose small town in rural state helped?)

“Thank you for your continued informative, easy to follow, interesting articles. At 73, know sooner or later, will be needing that extra information, even if I’m doing fine on my own 2.3 acres for now. (We rural Idaho gals have been known to take over working ranches at ages weaker beings are checking into assisted care homes. :-) Great genetic inheritances!)”

Sounds to me like, at 73, she’s getting warmed up!

And Yes: The experience she describes did take place in southern Idaho, but after 26 years in this business, I can tell you that the vast majority of people you will encounter on the “Road to Medicaid” (sans Hope and Crosby) will be good, decent people who genuinely want to help you “get there, from here.” What we need to remember is that those good folks have a job to do — jobs that we expect them to do! So, we need to hold up our end, with honest, civil interactions, and respond when we need to respond, and we’ll be pleasantly surprised by pleasant surprises.

Again, free help is always here, so don’t feel like you’re out on a limb by yourself — you’re not. But it really isn’t as insurmountable as you might have been led to believe, so if you’re in this situation (or close to it), stay calm and optimistic. You can do this.

We can do this.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.