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Medicaid and CHIP provide health coverage to nearly 60 million Americans, including children, pregnant women, parents, seniors and individuals with disabilities. In order to participate in Medicaid, federal law requires states to cover certain population groups (mandatory eligibility groups) and gives them the flexibility to cover other population groups (optional eligibility groups). States set individual eligibility criteria within federal minimum standards. States can apply to CMS for a waiver of federal law to expand health coverage beyond these groups.

Many states have expanded coverage, particularly for children, above the federal minimums. For many eligibility groups, income is calculated in relation to a percentage of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). For example, 100% of the FPL for a family of four is $22,350 in 2011. The Federal Poverty Level is updated annually. For other groups, income standards are based on income or other non-financial criteria standards for other programs, such as the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

In accordance with CHIPRA section 213, CMS published a notice in Federal Register on December 18, 2009, (Vol. 74, No. 242) soliciting comments to assist in the development of a model process. CMS invites feedback from stakeholders regarding the viability of the proposal on interstate coordination.

Affordable Care Act of 2010 Expands Medicaid Eligibility in 2014

The Affordable Care Act of 2010, signed by President Obama on March 23, 2010, creates a national Medicaid minimum eligibility level of 133% of the federal poverty level ($29,700 for a family of four in 2011) for nearly all Americans under age 65. This Medicaid eligibility expansion goes into effect on January 1, 2014 but states can choose to expand coverage with Federal support anytime before this date-see related Federal Policy Guidance and states that have expanded Medicaid prior to 2014. See Eligibility Provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Other Eligibility Criteria

There are other non-financial eligibility criteria that are used in determining Medicaid eligibility. In order to be eligible for Medicaid, individuals need to satisfy federal and state requirements regarding residency, immigration status, and documentation of U.S. citizenship.

Retroactive Eligibility

Medicaid coverage may start retroactively for up to 3 months prior to the month of application, if the individual would have been eligible during the retroactive period had he or she applied then. Coverage generally stops at the end of the month in which a person no longer meets the requirements for eligibility.

Income Resource Guidelines


States can apply to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for waivers to provide Medicaid to populations beyond what traditionally can be covered under the state plan. See more information about waivers. Some states have additional state only programs to provide medical assistance for certain low-income people who do not qualify for Medicaid. No federal funds are provided for state only programs.


Spousal Impoverishment: Protects the spouse still living in the community from becoming impoverished when the other spouse enters a nursing facility or other medical institution and is expected to remain there for at least 30 days.

Treatment of Trusts: When an individual, their spouse, or anyone acting on the individual’s behalf establishes a trust using at least some of the individual’s funds, that trust can be considered available to the individual for purposes of determining eligibility for Medicaid.

Transfers of Assets for Less Than Fair Market Value: This practice is prohibited for purposes of establishing Medicaid eligibility. Applies when assets are transferred, sold, or gifted for less than they are worth by individuals in long-term care facilities or receiving home and community-based waiver services, by their spouses, or by someone else acting on their behalf.

Estate Recovery: State Medicaid programs must recover from a Medicaid enrollee's estate the cost of certain benefits paid on behalf of the enrollee, including nursing facility services, home and community-based services, and related hospital and prescription drug services. State Medicaid programs may recover for other Medicaid benefits, except for Medicare cost-sharing benefits paid on behalf of Medicare Savings Program beneficiaries.

Third Party Liability: Third Party Liability (TPL) refers to third parties who have a legal obligation to pay for part or all of the cost of medical services provided to a Medicaid beneficiary. Examples are other programs such as Medicare, or other health insurance the individual may have that covers at least some of the cost of the medical service. If a third party has such an obligation, Medicaid will only pay for that portion.