Ky. can save money by funding quicker home care for seniors

Nan Hanley
Nan Hanley

For the nearly 735,000 Kentuckians caring for an aging loved one, help is on the way.

In a little-noticed bipartisan effort last year, the Kentucky General Assembly enacted House Bill 144, the Hospital to Homecare Transition Program. This program is designed to provide family caregivers the tools they need to move seniors more quickly to their own homes, not a nursing home or institution, when they leave the hospital.

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, and Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R.-Louisville, with the support of the Central Kentucky legislators, worked with Gov. Steve Beshear and his health services cabinet to enact this much-needed reform.

Now Kentucky’s General Assembly needs to actually fund this program in its upcoming budget session, and here is why.

Medicaid-eligible patients in Kentucky often wait months to obtain home-care services, burdening family caregivers and resulting in expensive and unnecessary emergency room and hospital visits.

This reform will speed up home-care placement by providing an early eligibility determination which considers family caregiver and patient preferences. It also addresses problems identified in recent studies, one conducted by the AARP and the other by America’s Health Rankings, which rank Kentucky 51st in long-term care supports for seniors and 50th in preventable hospitalizations.

While HB 144 was left unfunded last session, the General Assembly has the opportunity in its upcoming budget session to join other states that have enacted similar programs and have reduced home-care wait times up to 66 percent.

In state after state, presumptive home-care eligibility has been a lifesaver for seniors. It allows seniors to return home sooner, achieve better outcomes and avoid institutional settings.

Further, in its recent Supports for Family Caregivers Report, a General Assembly study endorsed this program as a means to expand home-care services. It was also supported by the Kentucky AARP. It has proven to significantly reduce the Medicaid spent in other states.

The average annual nursing home expenditure costs Kentucky $47,187, while home care costs approximately $15,000 per year per beneficiary.

In fact, Kentucky’s Medicaid spending on nursing-home care per enrollee is far higher than surrounding states. These states spend 40 percent more per enrollee than Kentucky on home-health services, according to a 2013 report commissioned by the state Heath Services Cabinet.

On behalf of the Kentucky home-care industry and the thousands of seniors we serve, we strongly urge the governor and the General Assembly to fully fund presumptive home-care eligibility by July 2016, as the law requires.

Now is the time to protect Kentucky seniors, support family caregivers and save Medicaid dollars by funding the Hospital to Homecare Transition Program.

Nan Hanley is executive director of Kentucky Home Care Association, based in Lexington.