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Home First Bill needs far more work

You may recall that last November, State Senator Dale Miller (D-Cleveland) and I introduced Senate Bill 214, legislation that would expand eligibility for Ohio’s Home First program.

This allows individuals in nursing facilities, who are Medicaid-eligible, to bypass any waiting lists for home and community-based care services.

The bill, which was recently approved by the Senate Finance & Financial Institutions Committee, would make seniors and disabled Ohioans, who are at-risk of imminent admission to a nursing facility, immediately eligible for PASSPORT, Assisted Living or PACE, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.

I worked to establish Ohio’s Home First program in 2005 in an effort to give Ohioans in nursing homes the ability to receive the care they need in the comfort of their own homes, and over the past several years, hundreds of Ohioans have taken advantage of the program.

In fact, between July and October last year, there were 521 Home First enrollments, according to the Ohio Department of Aging.

Studies have consistently shown that a large majority of Ohio consumers would prefer to age in their homes, and it has the added benefit of working to save taxpayers millions of dollars per year.

It costs $560 per month for an individual receiving PASSPORT assistance and $842 for Assisted Living, but the state spends nearly $1,700 per patient, per month for nursing home care. The Ohio Business Roundtable has said that if Ohio simply achieved the national average on spending for home and community based care—we currently rank 39th in the nation—the state could save $900 million a year in Medicaid costs.

While state leaders have taken some important incremental steps through Home First and other efforts to expand home and community-based care opportunities in Ohio, this progress hit a snag last spring.

As part of several budget reductions ordered by the Strickland Administration, the

Department of Aging implemented waiting lists for PASSPORT, Assisted Living and PACE, leaving hundreds of Ohioans, who need and are eligible for these services, waiting for a slot to open up.

However, thanks to bipartisan cooperation and the dedicated efforts of senior advocates across Ohio, the Governor wisely moved last month to transfer $5.3 million in existing funds at the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services to the Ohio Department of Aging to eliminate these waiting lists through the 2011 fiscal year.

These dollars would have been spent to treat a smaller group of people in more expensive nursing home care.

I applaud the Governor’s action to remove these waiting lists, which will help hundreds of Ohioans access home and community-based care services over the next several months, but it is only a short-term solution.

It is critical that the General Assembly continues to move forward with SB 214 to allow for greater flexibility in home care choices for those who need it in the future.

Home First already helps Ohioans in nursing facilities, who are Medicaid-eligible, bypass any waiting lists for PASSPORT or Assisted Living and return to their homes.

SB 214 would further increase opportunities under the Home First law by allowing Ohioans, who are Medicaid-eligible and at-risk of imminent admission to a nursing home, to immediately access home and community-based health care services through PASSPORT, Assisted Living or PACE.

The bill would help thousands of seniors and disabled Ohioans avoid nursing homes altogether, creating even greater choice in Ohio’s health care system for consumers and saving the state millions of dollars per year.

I believe that state government has a responsibility to manage the public’s dollars efficiently and transparently and with the best interest of taxpayers in mind. SB 214 is consistent with that goal.

I will continue to work with members of both parties in the House and Senate to move the bill forward for the future stability of Ohio’s budget and the health and well-being of current and future generations of Ohioans.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.