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Resource Tests and Eligibility for Federal Assistance Programs: Effects of Current Rules and Options for Change

Resource tests disqualify many individuals and families whose income would otherwise make them eligible for federal assistance through various federal programs, including Supplemental Security Income program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, the Medicare Savings Programs (MSP), and the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy (LIS). This report shows how increases in resource limits or changes in the way resources are counted could have a substantial effect on the number of people potentially qualifying for some major types of federal assistance.  Reforming resource tests would also simplify administration and increase participation among currently eligible individuals.

The report begins with an overview of the income and resource requirements for the four programs and their different resource methodologies—i.e., ways of counting assets subject to resource limits. It then provides estimates of the number of people who met income and other requirements for participation in one or more of these programs but who failed to meet a resource test. Finally, it examines the effects of some possible changes, including higher resource limits and different rules for treating specific kinds of assets (excluding retirement savings, excluding the cash value of life insurance, excluding all vehicles, annuitizing retirement funds, or using a net worth standard).  The report includes an analysis of how the increase in MSP and LIS resource levels in the House health care reform bill would increase the number of low-income Medicare beneficiaries eligible for assistance with Medicare premiums and cost sharing.