Boost Medicaid Waiver Funding

A new health care study makes it clearer than ever that West Virginia policymakers are missing a good bet by not spending more on the Medicaid Aged and Disabled Waiver program.

Low-income senior citizens and disabled people who qualify for Medicaid can benefit from the program. About 7,000 Mountain State residents receive help through it to pay for in-home health care and assistance with daily living needs.

Without the waiver program, many of those people would have to go to nursing homes, where the cost to Medicaid would be much higher. State and federal funds put into the waiver program can save the state money.

A study released this month by the Genworth Financial firm shows the median hourly cost of home health aide services in West Virginia has increased by an annual rate of 3.8 percent during the past five years. The national rate was 1.3 percent.

During the same period, the median hourly rate for homemaker services increased at an annual rate of 3.6 percent in our state, according to Genworth. The national rate of increase was 1 percent.

At first glance, that might seem to be an argument against putting more money into the Medicaid waiver program. But wait.

Genworth analysts also found that the median cost of a private nursing home in West Virginia increased 5 percent annually. Expenses for nursing home care are increasing at a greater rate than for assistance of the type covered by the waiver program.

When state legislators went into session this January, some suggested the state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 should include enough money to fund about 2,300 “slots” in the waiver program. That would have virtually eliminated the waiting list for it.

But among dozens of line-item vetoes Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin exercised on the budget was one slashing about $3.5 million from the Legislature’s proposal for the waiver program. As Tomblin noted, the amount he approved still provides enough increased funding to cover 335 new slots.

That is progress, but more needs to be made. Again, the waiver program appears to save money for Medicaid. It also makes thousands of senior citizens more comfortable, staying in their own residences instead of going to nursing homes.

Legislators are set to meet again in May, for a special session. When they do, they and Tomblin should reconsider the waiver program, and restore at least some of the $3.5 million the governor cut.