Ask Chuck: Medicaid Divorce

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Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late, Larry Burkett.

Dear Chuck,

A gentleman at work confided in me of his desire to file for a "Medicaid divorce" due to his wife's mounting medical bills. Is that biblical? Is there a different solution?

Need Counsel to Counsel

Dear Need Counsel,

I must confess that this is the first time I've heard the term, "Medicaid divorce." I was in disbelief so I had to do some homework on this one.

Medicaid, a combined state and federal program, is a state-specific insurance program for low-income individuals with limited financial assets, regardless of their age. Eligibility is determined by a couple's total income and assets. Certain limitations govern the amount of monthly income allocated. In other words, if you make too much money or have too high of a net worth, you don't qualify.

So, what I found is that couples are considering "Medicaid Divorce" when the costs of one spouse's medical needs are becoming too much of a burden, but the couple doesn't qualify for Medicaid (due to their total income or assets).

By legally divorcing, and disproportionately distributing more assets to the healthy spouse, the needy spouse's total income/assets plummet, likely qualifying them for Medicaid assistance. Then the healthy spouse doesn't have to deplete his or her assets to cover the medical costs, and preserves their quality of life by receiving the majority of the couple's assets.

To answer your question directly, I think this is a bad idea. It is not supported by Scripture and yes, there are better alternatives. Let me explain all this so you can provide counsel to your coworker.

Why a Medical Divorce?

Finances are an important part of marriage. Disagreements and mismanagement account for the majority of divorces in America today among young and old. Lack of knowledge, discipline, and planning are contributors. The reasons I believe people seek divorce when facing heavy medical expenses include:

  • Fear of the future
  • Worldly counsel
  • Self preservation

Health care costs have grown dramatically and with people living longer, it is necessary for people to plan ahead. This means sacrifices must be made for long-term financial health. Education is key, along with unity in philosophy and goals, and a willingness to be disciplined for the long haul.

Considering a divorce because you cannot afford to take care of a sick spouse is a devastating situation. It reminds me of why God said, "Go to the ant, O Sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest." (Proverbs 6:6-8 ESV)

Just as the ant takes the opportunity to gather and put aside an amount for later, so must God's people. The first 60 years of a person's life are usually where you generate the most financial surplus. The financially "lean" years begin in the latter part of life. The funds consumed during those years cannot be recovered later. Which is why Christians must ask themselves, "How much is enough?" Otherwise, our flesh will desire to consume all we make on houses, cars, clothes, eating out, vacations, etc, squandering savings and the potential for multiplication of surplus.

Wise Stewards

Stewardship encompasses the entirety of managing the resources with which God has blessed us. The spiritual leader "Must be one who manages his own household well." (1 Timothy 3:4 ESV)

That means you choose to live contra mundum (against the world) by consistently spending less than you earn to be prepared for the future.

Unfortunately, many in our aging population are not in good medical OR financial health. Debt is the culprit taking the form of credit card debt, auto debt, mortgage debt, and student loans.

And, the numbers of those with negative net worth is startling. Unemployment, ignorance, laziness, dependence on the government or family, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity and health crises can be contributing factors.

Insurance

"A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it." (Proverbs 27:12 ESV)

God desires for us to live responsibly. Our ultimate dependence needs to be fully placed on the Lord as Solomon instructed. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Long-term care planning is essential. The high costs of medical care can be offset with long-term care insurance. Premiums increase with age, so this is something to explore early while one is in good health in order to protect assets and take advantage of tax-qualified premiums.

Giving Counsel

So, the counsel I would give is to remember his vows and love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Divorcing the one you love for money is both tragic and unnecessary.

Try sharing some practical solutions and encouragement to see what God will do to provide their needs.

Practically, he should take one day at a time. He must consider the sale of assets, downsizing his home, and following these recommendations to save more money while he is still employed.

  • Create and live by a budget.
  • Drive older cars to avoid auto loans.
  • Pay off all debt. If you're struggling with credit card debt right now, you can get help. Our partners at Christian Credit Counselors specialize in alleviating the burden of credit card debt, and helping you pay it off according to principles found in Scripture. Contact them today.
  • Downsize if necessary. Live in a modest home. The average new home is 1,000 square feet larger than a home in 1973, and has fewer occupants. Smaller houses generally have lower utilities, maintenance, repairs, mortgages, property taxes and insurance.
  • Forsake expensive vacations for domestic ones that can be paid for in cash. Camping, hiking, and exploring national parks is how some couples are saving money and enjoying time off. You could save tons just by vacationing in the U.S.
  • Pack a lunch and make your own coffee to save money. Use those savings to pay off debt or max out your 401(k) account.
  • Increase your income by putting in extra hours on the job or start a side business.
  • Discipline yourself and refuse impulse buying or spending savings; ignore peer pressure and worldly temptations.

Most importantly, he must surrender all pride and humbly seek the wisdom of God. Let me know how it goes. I pray that you can convince him not to divorce his spouse for medicaid coverage.

Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is an author, host of My MoneyLife, a daily radio feature, and a columnist for the Christian Post and a well-known speaker. Follow Crown @CrownUpdates. For interviews or speaking requests contact media@crown.org.