This Op-Ed by Nicole Malliotakis originally appeared in the Brooklyn Reporter

The governor’s executive budget proposal contains language that would eliminate spousal refusal, a vital protection afforded to our aging population.

Right now, a catastrophic illness resulting in the institutionalization of one member of an elderly couple is an emotionally devastating situation. If the governor’s plan to eliminate spousal refusal is enacted, it will be financially devastating as well.

Spousal refusal allows seniors who are in the community to separate their income and resources from their spouses who have to be serviced in a nursing home due to chronic health needs which cannot be provided for at home.

Thousands of New Yorkers take advantage of this right in order to avoid unreasonable financial suffering when their spouse enters a nursing home. With spousal refusal, the healthy spouse is able to keep a home, a car and $113,640 in assets. Without spousal refusal, the couple would have to spend down and live the remainder of their lives on $20,850 in assets; impossible to do in any state, let alone New York.

The cost of long-term care is crushing. Putting a husband or wife through years of medical assistance can bankrupt even the most thoughtful, plan-oriented families. Without spousal refusal, couples would rapidly lose everything they have earned and saved during their life.

This plan would force families seeking home care to spend down their assets below the impoverishment level, leaving families a choice between providing a loved one with quality healthcare during their illness or leaving the surviving spouse destitute at the end of home care.

We cannot stand by while state government attempts to raid a married couple’s assets, everything they have worked for their entire lives, in order to provide long-term care for one person while leaving the surviving spouse destitute for the remainder of his or her life.

Such a change will ultimately result in higher costs to the Medicaid system, since the well spouse (who will eventually need some assistance) will be without the funds to pay for his or her own care. This will also result in greater depression and illness among well spouses, since the emotional pressure of having a loved one in an institution will be compounded by the financial devastation that will be caused by the elimination of spousal refusal.

Eliminating spousal refusal would actually incentivize divorce for a cash-strapped family that wants to provide care and treatment for a loved one.

The problem with health care spending isn’t the hard-working families that have planned for retirement and saved accordingly. The problem is the waste, fraud, abuse and inefficiency within the system that costs taxpayers $5 billion annually. That’s where our government should focus its attention.