Cuts to programs will push more senior citizens to nursing homes

CINCINNATI (AP) — State budget cuts to in-home and community-based services that help seniors stay independent will push more of those seniors into nursing homes at a higher cost to taxpayers, according to agencies serving older Ohioans.

The two-year spending plan lawmakers approved this week cuts about $30 million from the PASSPORT Medicaid waiver program that provides thousands of Ohio seniors a nursing-home level of care delivered at home or in day care or assisted-living centers.

The cuts will leave an estimated 10,000 older Ohioans on waiting lists or force them into nursing homes, said Kathy Keller, a spokeswoman for the senior citizens advocacy group AARP Ohio.

“We find that people often can’t wait for these services, so they end up going to nursing homes, and taxpayers end up paying three times the amount of money that they would if these people were allowed to stay in their homes,” Keller said.

Keller says three people can be served in their homes through PASSPORT at the cost of what it would take for one person in a nursing home.

The PASSPORT program provides services to those who are 60 or older, financially eligible for Medicaid institutional care and able to remain safely at home even though they require nursing-home level of care. The program includes in-home and community-based services such as meal delivery, visiting nurses, home aides and adult daycare. The cost for each participant cannot exceed 60 percent of the cost of nursing home care.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Ted Strickland said the governor’s original proposal would have reduced the long-term care line item by $40 million rather than the $30 million the legislature approved.

“We are continuing to analyze the final version in the coming days, but we believe the $10 million dollar investment will have a positive affect on reaching our goal of offering consumer choice,” said spokeswoman Amanda Wurst, who added that the budget was a difficult one because of the national recession.

Laurie Petrie, a spokeswoman for the Cincinnati-based Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, said the state is behind the rest of the country when it comes to understanding the savings provided by in-home and community-based care.

“Most of the other states have figured that they can save Medicaid money by helping people stay in their homes longer,” said Petrie. “It’s just baffling why Ohio remains one of the worst states in terms of the options offered to its seniors.”

PASSPORT client Hazel Whited, 79, of Wilmington, has been in the program for about eight to 10 years.

“I don’t know what I would do without it,” said Whited who has numerous health problems, including a condition that severely limits her walking.

An aide comes in a few hours a day to help her keep her apartment clean, and a visiting nurse comes once a week.

“My heart aches for those people that might not be able to get PASSPORT now,” she said. “We all want to stay independent for as long as we can.”

In 2008, at least 28,000 people were served through Passport at any one time with about 40,000 served over the course of the year, said Larke Recchie, executive director of the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

The numbers fluctuate as people recover, die, move in with family or eventually must go to nursing homes.

Keller says the association is looking for options, such as promoting more volunteerism to help with non-medical services.

“We know that more than 5,000 AARP members made calls to their state senators and representatives urging them to protect PASSPORT,” said Keller.

Recchie was meeting with Ohio Department of Aging officials trying to determine the exact impact.

“We know wait lists will begin immediately, and we will be able to enroll some people but significantly less than what we have been doing,” Recchie said. “We are particularly disappointed in the limits it puts on the assisted living program which was just beginning to grow.”

Ohio’s assisted living waiver program pays the costs of care services in an assisted living facility for certain people with Medicaid, allowing the consumer to use his or her own resources to cover the costs of room and board.

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