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U.S. Supreme Court

Schweiker v. Gray Panthers, 453 U.S. 34 (1981)

Schweiker v. Gray Panthers

No. 80 756

Argued April 29, 1981

Decided June 25, 1981

453 U.S. 34


The Medicaid program provides federal funds to States that pay for medical treatment for needy persons. Section 1902(a)(17)(D) of the Social Security Act provides that, in calculating benefits, state Medicaid plans must not

"take into account the financial responsibility of any individual for any applicant or recipient of assistance under the plan unless such applicant or recipient is such individual's spouse"

or minor, blind, or disabled child. Section 1902(a)(17)(B) requires participating States to grant benefits to eligible persons taking into account only such income and resources that are, "as determined in accordance with standards prescribed by the Secretary [of Health and Human Services], available to the applicant." The Secretary promulgated regulations describing the circumstances in which the income of one spouse may be "deemed" available to the other for purposes of determining eligibility for Medicaid benefits. In States participating in the program called Supplemental Security Income for the Aged, Blind, and Disabled (SSI), which substantially replaced the former state-run categorical need plans and enlarged eligibility for Medicaid benefits, the regulations provide that, when the applicant and his spouse live in the same household, the spouse's income and resources always must be considered in determining eligibility whether or not they are actually contributed, and that, when the applicant and spouse cease to share the same household, the spouse's income will be disregarded the next month unless both are eligible for assistance, in which case the income of both is considered for six months. Greater "deeming" is authorized in States which have exercised the option under § 209(b) of the 1972 amendments to the Social Security Act of electing not to enlarge Medicaid eligibility to SSI levels. Respondent, an organization dedicated to helping the elderly, filed suit in Federal District Court attacking the regulations applicable in the § 209(b) States on the ground that "deeming" impermissibly employs an "arbitrary formula" to impute a spouse's income to an institutionalized applicant, and thus is inconsistent with § 1902(a)(17)(B). Respondent claimed that, before a State may take into account the spouse's income in calculating an institutionalized applicant's benefits, it must chanrobles.com-red

Page 453 U. S. 35

make a factual determination that the spouse's income actually is contributed to that applicant. The District Court agreed, and declared the regulations invalid. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but on the ground that the regulations were invalid because the Secretary, in promulgating them, had failed to consider the unfairness of treating separated spouses as a "single economic unit" and the disruption caused by the requirement of support from the applicant's spouse.

Held: The regulations at issue are consistent with the statutory scheme, and are reasonable exercises of the authority delegated to the Secretary. Pp. 453 U. S. 43-50.

(a) In view of the explicit delegation of substantive authority to the Secretary in § 1902(a)(17)(B), his definition of the term "available" is entitled to "legislative effect," rather than mere deference or weight. Pp. 453 U. S. 43-44.

(b) The language of § 1902(a)(17)(D), which was enacted as part of the original Medicaid program, makes it clear that, from the beginning of the program, Congress authorized States to presume spousal support. And this provision's legislative history is fully consistent with its language. By enacting § 209(b), Congress in effect told States that wished to use the § 209(b) option that they could retain virtually all of the Medicaid eligibility limitations, including "deeming," that were allowed under the original Act. Pp. 453 U. S. 44-47.

(c) In treating spouses differently from most other relatives by explicitly authorizing state plans "to take into account the financial responsibility" of the spouse, Congress demonstrated that "deeming" is not antithetical to the general statutory requirement that Medicaid eligibility be based solely on resources "available" to the applicant. "Available" resources are different from those in hand. The requirement of availability refers to resources left to a couple after the spouse has deducted a sum on which to live, and does not require a State to consider only the resources actually paid by the spouse to the applicant. The administration of public assistance based on the use of a formula is not inherently arbitrary. To require individual factual determinations of need would dissipate, in factfinding, resources that could have been spent on the needy. Pp. 453 U. S. 47-48.

203 U.S.App.D.C. 146, 629 F.2d 180, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 453 U. S. 50. chanrobles.com-red

Page 453 U. S. 36


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