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To help those losing assistance stay in their homes, the state has created a limited program called Essential Community Supports that will cover a smaller number of home-based services. The payments under the new program, which is funded by the state, are limited to $400 a month.
Loren Colman, DHS assistant commissioner of continuing care, said the changes are necessary to preserve the long-term sustainability of Medicaid. Medical assistance programs account for 25 percent of the state’s general budget, up from 17 percent in 2005, according to the Minnesota Budget Project, a nonpartisan research group that focuses on budget and tax issues.
“If we don’t make these changes today, then we are that much closer to the demographic changes that are going to test our system and make it unsustainable,” Colman said.
Will health be affected?
Across Minnesota, senior citizens and their families are already starting to learn that they may no longer qualify for assistance under the new rules.
Fred Johnson recently learned from a county official that his 83-year-old aunt, Mary Jane Jennings of St. Cloud may not qualify for home-based care through Medicaid..
Johnson, a portfolio manager at an investment firm, said his aunt moves with a breathing tube hooked up to an oxygen tank, which limits her mobility. She needs help with bathing, vacuuming and other chores and recently had a serious fall that sent her to a hospital for four days, Johnson said.
Relatives “found her lying on the ground with her breathing tube partially disconnected,” Johnson said. “We’re just thankful she was able to call 911, or she could have been gone.”
Johnson questioned whether the state will save money by denying her home-based care. “It seems to make a whole lot more sense as a taxpayer to pay a few hundred dollars a month to help her stay in her own home,” he said, “because if she falls again then it will cost the state many times more in hospital and nursing home bills.”
Professional caregivers, whose hours would be cut under the new rules, are concerned that limiting services for elderly who struggle with even one basic living need could have a profound effect on their health.
A frail person who is unable to get in and out of a bathtub or stand long enough to cook a meal is at a greater risk of illness or hospitalization, caregivers warn. Some elderly people may no longer be able to afford assisted-living facilities without the waiver and may be forced to move in with relatives, they said.
“It’s crucial to remember that things can go downhill very fast for [older] people who are vulnerable and frail,” said Patti Cullen, president and chief executive officer of Care Providers of Minnesota, an association that represents senior housing providers. “Your change of status can happen very quickly, and we don’t have strong confidence that the process is set up to adjust to those changes.”
At Rainbow Terrace, word of the planned changes was a topic of discussion at the holiday party, where Robinson arrived with two sweet potato pies and a tray of potato salad.
“You’ve got a lot of folks in here who sit back and pretend like they don’t need anything, but you know they’re hurtin’,” she said. “I just hope we don’t get to a point where it takes a crisis for them to get some help.”
Chris Serres • 612-673-4308
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