This week the state of Ohio will begin a series of drawings to increase the awareness of the availability and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, and to provide a million dollar incentive for Ohioans who’ve been vaccinated.
What does winning the Vax-a-Million mean for your benefits? Attorney George Aljoe answers some commonly asked questions concerning your benefits and the Vax-a-Million winnings.
Q: Can someone who has developmental disabilities enter and win the Vax-a-Million contest?
A: Yes. There is no restriction on individuals with developmental disabilities or who receive public benefits from entering and winning the Vax-a-Million contest
Any Ohio resident 18 and older who has received at least one dose can enter the contest to win the $1,000,000 prize. Ohio residents 12-17 years old can win a four-year full-ride scholarship to any Ohio state college or university. If an adult with disabilities has a legal guardian, the guardian does not have to enter on their behalf. However, the legal guardian of an adult with disabilities must verify the information that was provided if a person under guardianship is picked as one of the drawing winners.
Q: What if someone is on Medicaid and wins the Vax-a-Million contest? Can they keep their Medicaid benefits?
A: They will have an interruption in their benefits, but smart planning will let them keep their Medicaid coverage.
Medicaid treats winnings from contests like the Vax-a-Million program as ‘lump-sum payments’. Lump-sum payments from prizes are treated as income in the month the payment is received, and as a resource starting the following month. The effect of receiving a lump-sum payment depends on what type of Medicaid an individual receives. Keep in mind that the amount a winner ultimately receives will have taxes and other deductions taken out first. All Medicaid programs have a monthly income limit. Because a lump-sum payment of such a large size would exceed even the highest Medicaid income limit, an individual on Medicaid who wins the Vax-a-Million contest would lose their Medicaid benefits in the month they receive the prize money. They will become eligible again the following month if they still meet Medicaid resource limits.
Not all Medicaid programs have a resource limit. MAGI Medicaid, for example, does not have a resource limit. So, for an individual on MAGI Medicaid, they would become eligible again the following month if their income did not change. Note – Medicaid does NOT count interest earned as income, with some exceptions. See a well-qualified Medicaid attorney or other professional for complete details.
Most other Medicaid programs have a resource limit. The lump-sum payment amount from Vax-a-Million exceeds the resource limit for most Medicaid programs. If a Medicaid recipient wins a Vax-a-Million drawing, they will lose Medicaid benefits until they have spent down or transferred away the prize money. Additionally, individuals who are receiving or may receive long-term care Medicaid could be subject to restricted coverage penalties if they give away the funds or place them into a Trust.
However, smart planning will allow a Medicaid recipient to retain the Vax-a-Million money without having to spend-down. Individuals under age 65 with disabilities can place the funds into an exempt Trust such as a Special Needs Trust or a Medicaid Payback Pooled Trust. They would still be eligible for Medicaid, and the funds in the Trust could be used to supplement their needs. Individuals over age 65 cannot place funds into a Special Needs Trust but can (in Ohio) still use a Pooled Trust. They would still lose Medicaid coverage for at least one month (the month they receive the prize money payment), but once the funds were properly placed into an exempt Trust, they would regain their eligibility.
Q: What about other Benefits like SSI and SSDI?
A: A winner will lose SSI for at least three years, but SSDI is unaffected.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program to provide low-income individuals with disabilities cash to purchase their basic needs like food and shelter. If an SSI recipient wins a Vax-a-Million drawing, the payment would exceed the income limit ($794 in 2021) and the resource limit ($2,000). An individual on SSI could transfer their winnings into a Special Needs Trust or a Pooled Trust and keep Medicaid benefits. However, this transfer would still result in the individual losing their SSI payments for three years (36 months).
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), by contrast, is an earned benefit. There are no resource or income limits to individuals who meet the physical criteria to qualify for SSDI. Likewise, there is no general income limit, only a restriction on earning income through Substantial Gainful Activity. Since winning a prize such as the Vax-a-Million is not earned income, there is no impact on the winner’s SSDI benefits.
Q: Is there any reason to not enter the Vax-a-Million contest if I depend on my benefits?
A: No. Every vaccinated Ohioan should enter the Vax-a-Million contest if they wish.
For many individuals who are receiving benefits, winning one of the prizes would only minimally impact their benefits, especially if they make smart planning steps with the help of an experienced attorney. The benefit of winning hundreds of thousands of dollars (after taxes) would be worth losing three years of SSI payments (approx. $30,000).
Everyone with disabilities or receiving Medicaid, SSI, or SSDI should enter the Vax-a-Million drawings. Winning would be an enormous benefit to anyone who has disabilities or special needs. With the help of a qualified, experienced benefits planning attorney, this benefit could be made to last a lifetime.