Personal allowance for Medicaid nursing home residents in Illinois unchanged since '88
Feb. 28—CHAMPAIGN — Prices have gone up a lot since 1988, but here's one number in Illinois that's stayed the same:
The "personal needs allowance" for elderly residents in Medicaid-funded nursing-home care remains $30 a month, same as it was 35 years ago, and some folks may be calling on lawmakers to consider a raise.
The personal-needs allowance is the amount of personal income — for example, from Social Security checks — that a nursing-home resident on Medicaid is allowed to keep for personal expenses such as haircuts, hobby supplies (such as yarn for knitting), clothing and snacks, according to Ryan Gannaway, a long-term-care ombudsman with the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging.
The rest of a resident's income goes to help cover the cost of nursing-home expenses picked up by Medicaid.
Illinois is one of four states with the lowest personal-needs allowance of $30, while many states allow more, Gannaway said.
"The national average is $60," he said. "Alaska, for example, is $200. Florida is $130."
Gannaway, who advocates for seniors in Champaign, Piatt and DeWitt counties, said he's heard concerns expressed by nursing-home residents about the allowance rate, especially as Social Security checks have gone up.
He's created two letters that both residents and non-residents can sign and send calling on Illinois legislators to address the issue.
"Residents are responsible for paying for their haircut; phone; snacks such as Pepsi, Snickers, honey-roasted peanuts; or any other item excluded from what is included in the regular room rate," the letter states. "By mailing this letter to you, it has cost me 2 percent of my monthly spending allowance. If I decide to mail a loved one a card, that is 10 percent of my monthly spending allowance."
Gannaway said the letters have been provided to 60 nursing homes in the 16 counties covered by the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging.
Nursing homes can make them available to residents who want to send them, he said.
While the personal-needs allowance has been unchanged for 35 years, he said, it's recently been brought to light how far — or not — $30 a month will go.
One reason is because nursing-home residents on Medicaid were permitted to keep their pandemic-related stimulus checks in 2020, which allowed them to cover some of their needs, such as clothing, Gannaway said.
According to the American Council on Aging, as of this month, Illinois is joined by Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina in maintaining their personal-needs allowance rates at $30, the amount set by the federal government in 1988.