The cost of nursing home care, which is approximately $10,000 - $12,000 per month in this area, can quickly wipe out one's life savings. In 1988, Congress enacted provisions to prevent what is known as "spousal impoverishment," or leaving the spouse who remains in the community with little or no income or resources. The provisions helped to prevent spousal impoverishment and provided some level of security for community spouses.
Under the MassHealth regulations incorporating the spousal impoverishment provisions, a range of assets is allowed to be retained by the community spouse, and depending on factors such as income and living expenses of the community spouse. There are additional provisions which provide for some of the institutional spouse's monthly income to be paid to the community spouse each month, or for excess assets beyond the maximum allowed to be retained to generate the needed income, in certain circumstances.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have announced these and other spousal impoverishment standards for 2014, which you can see here: