Assembly Bill 641 Extends Financial Protections for Medi-Cal’s Long Term Care Benefit to Same Sex Spouses and Registered Domestic Partners

(Sacramento, CA, September 9, 2011)—The Legislature has given final approval to legislation authored by Assembly Member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) that would provide same sex spouses and registered domestic partners of nursing home residents the same financial protections available to opposite sex married couples. Without these protections, Californians in same sex relationships risk losing access to joint financial resources, such as bank accounts or stock, when their partner or spouse applies for the Medi-Cal long term care benefit.

“When spouses make the difficult decision to place their loved ones in nursing homes, they should concentrate on finding the best possible care. They should not have to worry that their spouse could lose access to joint financial resources and face poverty due to unequal treatment and discrimination,” said Feuer. “I hope the Governor will act swiftly to address this inequity, which could leave same sex spouses of nursing home residents without the means to support themselves.”

Under current law, Medi-Cal’s long term care benefit helps to pay for medical care and services for people who have a chronic illness or disability, including the costs of placing an elderly person into a nursing home. To qualify for this benefit, some recipients are first required to contribute significant resources toward their medical costs. Existing law provides protections for opposite sex married couples that allow them to shield assets so that the spouse outside the nursing home retains a means of financial support and is not forced into poverty by these cost-sharing requirements.

Unfortunately, these critical protections currently do not apply to same sex spouses or registered domestic partners, who therefore face the prospect of being denied access to shared assets. The federal government recently issued a memo clarifying that states have flexibility in administering the long term care benefit. Assembly Bill 641 enables California to take the lead in ensuring that same sex couples are afforded the same financial protections provided to opposite sex couples.

“This bill extends critically needed protections to same sex couples who would otherwise be left impoverished by the costs of long term care,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell. “This bill will correct a terrible injustice and ensure that all elder couples have the same safeguards under Medi-Cal.”

AB 641 mandates the implementation of the spousal assets protections for same sex couples and registered domestic partners and requires DHCS to fast track implementation.

“LGBTQ spouses and life-long partners are often torn apart because the current long-term care system unfairly discriminates against same sex couples,” said Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia. “This bill remedies the harm caused by current state law by ensuring the implementation of new federal guidelines that give states flexibility when administering long term care benefits. This is a critical change that helps LGBTQ seniors have the same dignity and respect afforded to all elderly people. We thank Assemblymember Feuer for championing this critical piece of legislation.”

“AB 641 is a major step forward in ensuring that same sex partners receive equal treatment under the law,” said Patricia McGinnis, Executive Director for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “It will provide the same protections afforded to opposite sex couples during one of the most difficult times in life when one spouse must enter a nursing home.”

The bill now goes before consideration by the Governor. A full copy of the bill is available here.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.