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09.19.2014
Spousal Impoverishment
Protections Initiative


Medicaid serves as the single largest payer of long-term care in the United States, which is often necessary for older adults and people with disabilities who need institutional or in-home health services. Medicaid qualification rules include a series of “spousal impoverishment” protections that aim to prevent a healthy spouse from having to give up a family home or retirement savings, and live in poverty, in order to qualify his/her spouse for Medicaid.

Unfortunately, these protections generally do not apply to same-sex couples. In June 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that states could extend some of these important protections to same-sex couples—creating an opportunity for state advocates to extend these protections to same-sex couples in their states.

SAGE's Spousal Impoverishment Protections Initiative is a multi-year advocacy initiative to extend spousal impoverishment protections under Medicaid to same-sex couples in all 50 states. Our initiative works with advocates at the state level to advocate for these protections in their home states.

Early Advocacy and 2011 Breakthrough

In 2009, SAGE, Lambda Legal and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force began advocating with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue guidance that extends the same spousal impoverishment protections to same-sex partners. In June 2011, CMS notified states that they are empowered to treat same-sex couples the same as married heterosexual couples when it comes to protection from "spousal impoverishment" under Medicaid. Yet, the federal government is notifying—not requiring—states to adopt these protections. Thus, the responsibility for extending these protections rests with state advocates. Read the CMS guidance.

Original Research

Medicaid qualification rules vary across states, as do the related laws, regulations and sub-regulatory guidance of each state. Further, some states have broad relationship recognition laws, while many others have less recognition, even constitutional amendments forbidding marriage and civil unions for same-sex partners. Read recent research from The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law explaining how states can implement these protections.

In New York State

SAGE successfully issued guidance in October 2011 to New York State on how it could extend spousal impoverishment protections in SAGE's home state, and a month a later, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that these protections would be extended to same-sex partners in New York. The information about the extended real estate protections—Medicaid liens, estate recovery and transfer of asset rules—was made official in a letter sent from the New York Office of Health Insurance programs in November 2011. Read SAGE's White Paper on spousal impoverishment protections in New York.


To learn more about the Spousal Impoverishment Protections Initiative, please contact Allison Auldridge, Policy Associate, SAGE, at aauldridge@sageusa.org.

SAGE would like to thank the Gill Foundation for their generous support of this initiative.

Related Resources

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June 27, 2012

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