Elderly Waiver Program Keeps People Out of Nursing Homes


What is the Elderly Waiver Program?

Iowa has a Medicaid program for helping people who need extra care to stay out of nursing homes and continue to live at home.  For people over 65 the program is called the Elderly Waiver program.  The program provides funding for services and personal care support in your home or an assisted living facility.  The program is for people who would need to go to a nursing home or other medical institution if they did not get this in-home care.  With the desire to stay in your home and the high cost of nursing home care, this is an important program for elderly Iowans.

What are the requirements for eligibility for the Elderly Waiver program?

For a single person in 2019:  if your monthly income is $2,313 or less and your assets are $2000 or less and you need in-home care, you may be eligible for Elderly Waiver Program.  You do not count your home, car, household goods, and certain burial/funeral funds or contracts.  If your monthly income is over $2,313 you may still be eligible under certain conditions. 

If you are married and only one of you needs help, the asset limits are more complicated. The spouse not applying for help may be able to keep assets up to $119,220 and possibly more.  

  • You must be an Iowa resident and a U.S. citizen or person with legal entry into the U.S.
  • You must be 65 years of age or older.
  • You must meet the income and assets requirements for Medicaid assistance for living in a nursing home facility. 
  • You must need nursing or skilled “level of care”.

You apply for the Elderly Waiver program through Iowa Department of Human Services.  Iowa Medicaid Enterprises is responsible for determining if you need the “level of care” required for Elderly Waiver services.

How do I know if I need the “level of care” required for Elderly Waiver?

To be eligible for the Elderly Waiver program, you must need care that is considered nursing or skilled level of care.  This means the care is necessary for you to stay in your home safely.   In other words, without Elderly Waiver services you would need this care in a medical institution such as a nursing home.

A doctor, registered nurse practitioner, or physician assistant completes a Level of Care Certification form.  The form asks your doctor if you need assistance or if you have problems in the following areas:

  1. Cognitive – such as memory issues
  2. Ambulation – such as using a wheelchair
  3. Bathing/Grooming – such as risk of falling
  4. Dressing
  5. Therapy
  6. Behaviors
  7. Elimination – toilet issues such as incontinence
  8. Living Arrangement – including if dangerous to live alone
  9. Respiratory – such as use of oxygen
  10. Tube Feeding
  11. Medications – such as help for set-up
  12. Eating
  13. Skin – such as bed sore treatment

Based on this medical evaluation Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) decides if you are eligible for Elderly Waiver services.  If the doctor indicated on the level of care form that you have no problems or need for care, you will not be eligible for the Elderly Waiver program.  The form is a tool for indicating whether you need nursing home level of care services. 

The bottom line to qualify for Elderly Waiver is that you need care services to safely stay in your home.  Without the Elderly Waiver you would have to get the care in a nursing home.  

If denied Elderly Waiver services you can appeal the decision, or re-apply in the future if your need for care increases.

What if my Elderly Waiver benefits are cancelled? 

You can lose your Elderly Waiver services if you get new income or assets that put you over eligibility limits.  You can also lose your Elderly Waiver services if you no longer need the level of care provided by the program.

Annually, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) through Iowa Medicaid Enterprise (IME) reviews people getting help through the Elderly Waiver program.  The evaluation is to see whether you still need the care services provided by the program.  Your doctor, nurse, or physician assistant is asked to complete a new Level of Care Certification form.  This is the same form that was completed when you first applied for the Elderly Waiver program.   It is important that you, your doctor and other care providers understand this review and the level of care required for Elderly Waiver services.  The loss of Elderly Waiver services which keep you in your home may be catastrophic.

Losing your Elderly Wavier services is usually based on the new Level of Care Certification form showing that you are independent and do not need care. 

This year, Iowa Legal Aid is getting a large number of calls from people who have gotten a notice that their Elderly Waiver services are canceled.  This cancellation of Elderly Waiver may determine whether you can continue to live at home or will soon need to go to a nursing home. 

What if I need the Elderly Waiver services to stay in my home?

  • You need to file an appeal with the Department of Human Services within the 30 day deadline.  A hearing will be scheduled with an Administrative Law Judge to decide if you need Elderly Waiver services.  Within a 10 day deadline, you can also request that your Elderly Waiver services continue during your appeal.  If you lose the appeal, you may have to repay the state for the continued care services. 
  • You should review the canceling of your Elderly Waiver with your doctor and other care providers.  Ask them if they can provide medical support to show your need for Elderly Waiver services. 
  • You should call Iowa Legal Aid for advice and possible help representing you at the hearing.

Sometimes the completed level of care form does not tell the whole story of your need for Elderly Waiver services.  It may be that you have told your doctor that you don’t need help when you do need help.  You may feel uncomfortable talking about your personal care needs.  However, it is very important to be honest in the evaluation of your care needs.  Trying to do things that put you at risk of falling or risk your health in other ways is foolish.  This can also lead to having to go into a nursing home.  Sometimes even though you are able to do some things on your own there may be a combination of medical care and personal care needs that would prevent you from staying at home without Elderly Waiver services. 

Review the completed level of care form with your doctor. 

  • Be honest about your need for help and care. 
  • Make sure your doctor understands your limitations and needs. 
  • Ask your doctor to submit an updated level of care form to Iowa Medicaid Enterprises (IME) and to the Administrative Law Judge. 
  • Ask your doctor to write a letter explaining why you need the Elderly Waiver program to safely stay in your home. 

A clear statement from your doctor stating that you would need to go to a nursing home if your Elderly Waiver care is canceled is very helpful for persuading IME and the Administrative Law Judge. 

If it becomes clear from your medical support that you need the Elderly Waiver services, the Department of Human Services may re-instate you in the program before the hearing.  Otherwise the Administrative Law Judge will decide if your Elderly Waiver program should continue or not. 

Even if you lose the appeal and your Elderly Waiver services are canceled, you can re-apply for the program should your need for in-home assistance increase. 

If you are having problems, you may wish to call Iowa Legal Aid.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275. 
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at

If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer”   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.


Link to the information from Iowa DHS on Home and Community Based Waiver Services.

Iowa DHS Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver Program:

Last Review and Update: Mar 15, 2019

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