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The short answer to the question, “Can I be paid as a caregiver for my spouse,” is yes. Unfortunately, the long answer is considerably more complicated, and it starts with, “Well, that depends.” There are several different programs, or funding sources, that exist that can pay spouses as caregivers. Eligibility depends on a number of factors, such as one’s state of residence, one’s income and financial assets, the types of insurance one has and if either the caregiver or their spouse are veterans. There are also many misperceptions about which programs offer spousal pay. These are addressed in aggregate further in this article, but the most common will be addressed in this introduction. Medicare does not pay spouses to care for their elderly or disabled partners.
If you are seeking to be paid as a caregiver for a loved one, but are not married to them, they are many additional options. Use our Paid Caregiver Program Locator to find them.
Will Medicare Pay Spouses for Caregiving?
Medicare’s policy towards spousal pay is very clear. Medicare does not pay spouses to provide personal care or assistance with activities of daily living for their husbands or wives. Medicare does not cover personal (non-medical) care for any of its beneficiaries. Despite having a clear policy, there continues to be strong misperceptions surrounding this topic. It is likely these stem from an extremely rare circumstance where a spouse is married to a practicing doctor, and Medicare has approved the spouse for home healthcare visits. In this situation, a doctor may be compensated for providing medical care for his or her spouse, but not for personal care.
State Programs to Pay for Spousal Caregiving
As of the most recent update (June 2021), our research has found fifteen states whose public assistance programs allow for spouses to be paid caregivers. There are several different types of state programs that allow families this option. These include Medicaid HCBS Waivers, Medicaid State Plan Personal Care programs, and even non-Medicaid state funded assistance program.
Prior to listing the states and programs, it is best to discuss how paying spouses actually works. Each of the programs that follow, allow for consumer direction of services, which means the “consumer” or beneficiary has the option to “direct” from whom they receive their care services. To clarify, they are allowed to choose whomever they would like, provided that individual meets the program’s requirements (physical ability, background check, etc.). Therefore, they can elect to hire their spouses as personal care providers. Their spouses, if approved, are paid by the state program or through an intermediary agency. Compensation rates vary by program and state. Typically, caregiver spouses are paid between $10.75 – $20.75 / hour.
In general terms, to be eligible as a care recipient for these programs, applicants are limited to approximately $27,756 per year in income, and most programs limit the value of their countable assets to less than $2,000. Worth noting is that countable assets do not include the value of their home. However, since these care recipients are married, they can likely allocate some of their joint assets to the non-applicant spouse in order to qualify for the program. (This is known as the community spouse resource allowance.) Detailed eligibility information is available at specific program links in the table below.
Others Ways to Get Paid for Caregiving for a Spouse
This program, which is also referred to as Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS), gives participating veterans the flexibility to choose their own care providers. Family members, including spouses, can be hired as personal care providers. The Veteran’s Health Administration sets the hourly rate that personal care providers are paid, which is estimated at $8.00- $22.00, depending on the geographic area of the country. Not all veterans are eligible. Veterans must be enrolled in the VHA Standard Medical Benefits package, have a medical need, and must live in certain geographic areas of the country in which the program is offered. Read more about eligibility and locations here.
VA Caregiver Support
This program, also referred to as the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, allows spouses to receive a monthly stipend to provide care for their veteran partners. However, it is less relevant to the elderly, as veterans must have been injured in the line of duty following Sept. 11, 2001. More information.
It should be mentioned here that VA Pensions, such as Aid & Attendance, cannot be used to pay spouses. This is discussed in greater detail under Misperceptions.
Long Term Care Insurance
In some circumstances, long term care insurance policies can be used to pay spouses for caregiving, but much is dependent on the specific policy’s rules. For example, the policy must cover non-medical, personal care provided at home. If a policy pays out cash benefits directly to the policyholder, there would be no need to pay a spouse, since the spouse is already sharing in the benefits. However, if the policy’s rules state that they will only pay out to licensed care providers, then a couple might want to pursue this option. There are multiple steps involved in this process. The caregiving spouse may need to become a licensed non-medical, home care provider and register with their state. Their newly formed home care agency is hired by the care recipient. Once care is provided, they invoice for their hours, and those invoices are sent to the long term care insurance company for payment. Though initially logistically challenging, this option can bring significant income to a caregiving spouse over the long term. Long term care policyholders who’d like assistance establishing this arrangement should contact us to be connected with an expert.
Life Insurance Policies
Most medium to high value life insurance policies can be converted to a form which can be used to pay an individual who provides care for his or her husband or wife. Furthermore, this conversion can be structured in a way to preserve the option to receive Medicaid assistance in the future. Unfortunately, this process is complicated, and to understand how this works requires some background information.
Life insurance policies can be sold prior to the policyholder passing away. The policyholder collects a percentage of the policy’s death benefit and a third party buyer takes over paying the monthly premiums and collects the full death benefit upon the former policyholder’s passing. This is referred to as a “life settlement.” A specific type of life settlement, sometimes called a “Medicaid life settlement,” utilizes a third party administrator to ensure the proceeds from the policy sale are only spent on providing care (thereby not violating Medicaid eligibility rules). The spouse who provides care forms a small business, a home care agency which serves one client, their spouse. The third party administrator pays the caregiving spouse from the proceeds of the life settlement.
To be eligible, a policy must have a minimum face value of $50,000. To learn more about this approach, read about Medicaid Life Settlements.
Paid Family Leave Acts
Currently, five states plus the District of Columbia offer paid family leave in order to care for a spouse. These are New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, California, and, more recently, Washington. All of these programs are intended to allow spouses to care for their partners for short periods of time, usually between 4 – 12 weeks. While doing so, they continue to receive a significant percentage of their salary. It is possible to manipulate the paid leave so that instead of taking continuous leave, one takes partial leave on an ongoing basis. For example, New Jersey offers 6 weeks or 42 days of leave, and it is possible to take one day each week for 42 weeks. Benefits and eligibility differ with each state.
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Common Misperceptions About Paying for Spousal Caregiving
The most common misperception is that Medicare will pay spouses. As discussed previously, this is not the case. Below, we list other programs that may, in fact, not be the best options for paying for spousal caregiving. Our hope is that we help you avoid common mistakes.
Using a reverse mortgage to pay a husband or wife to provide care for their partner is possible, but doing so does not make strong economic sense. A reverse mortgage essentially takes an existing, non-liquid asset a couple has, and converts that asset into a cash stream. A caregiving spouse could form a home care agency and that cash stream could be used to pay the spouse / agency for their services. However, they would then be required to pay income taxes on the proceeds. Were the couple to simply take the reverse mortgage proceeds, the proceeds would be considered a loan, and therefore would not be taxable.
Aid & Attendance and Other VA Pensions
Unfortunately, the Aid & Attendance, Housebound, and Basic Pensions offered by the VA cannot be used to pay a husband or wife to provide care for their spouse. The reason for this is because the VA calculates income for a pensioner as household income. Therefore, any payments made to the caregiving spouse would increase the couple’s household income, and their VA Pension benefit would be reduced by that same amount. Other family members can be paid as caregivers since their incomes will not be considered as part of the household income. Read more.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
If one is unable to work because of a disability (as designated by Social Security), they are offered financial assistance. Their spouse, should they meet certain requirements (mainly, 62 years of age), is also eligible to receive financial assistance as they may have been financially dependent on the now disabled person. However, the spouse receives that assistance regardless of if they provide care to their disabled spouse, and the amount they receive does not increase if they provide care.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSI is a financial assistance program for low income persons with limited financial assets. The monthly benefits increase for married couples, but that increase is not dependent on one spouse providing care for their other.
Family & Medical Leave Act
This act, often abbreviate FMLA, does not provide financial assistance to care for one’s spouse. It does, however, permit spouses to take time off from their jobs without fear of losing their jobs, or their health insurance associated with their employment. Read more.