The petition, with almost 10,000 signatures, was circulated in recent months by the West Virginia Directors of Senior and Community Services Association, which includes senior center and community program directors from 50 counties in the state.
Besides seeking more money for the in-home and personal care programs, the petition calls for increased reimbursement rates for providers to hire and train competent caregivers. It argued that providing services that allow senior citizens to stay in their homes is more cost-effective than having them in nursing homes or undergoing hospital stays.
Sandra Vanin, commissioner of the Bureau of Senior Services, which oversees the in-home programs, took offense. She wrote a letter in December to House Speaker Rick Thompson, D- Wayne, saying she was concerned that the petition was raising unnecessary fears and that its tone might manipulate seniors to sign it.
Thompson referred Vanin’s letter to Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, chairman of the House Senior Citizen Issues Committee, who came up with his own letter to Vanin. He cited the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of people’s right to petition and argued that elected officials should welcome input from citizens. He’s got that right.
And it appears that the group circulating the petition also is correct in pointing out the needs of many senior citizens in the state.
This year the Medicaid ‘‘waiver’’ program for in-home care is approved for 5,200 slots by the federal government, which pays three-quarters of the program cost, according to a report in the Charleston Gazette.
The Department of Health and Human Resources on Jan. 1 froze enrollment in the program because ‘‘We found out there more people on the program than we thought,’’ DHHR spokesman John Law told the Gazette. ‘‘There is no money to add new people.’’
But as of Jan. 20, 932 elderly and disabled people had been medically approved but are not receiving in-home services, according to the DHHR.
Why there are only 5,200 slots is somewhat perplexing. DHHR estimates that 6,057 people will be on the program this year, and last year, more than 6,500 were enrolled, by DHHR statistics. So one question becomes how effective the DHHR is in estimating needs.
Williams said he believes the state can ask the federal government at any time to increase the number of funded slots, and Law said the DHHR is talking with federal Medicaid now.
Every five years, DHHR sends federal Medicaid a five-year plan, containing the number of ‘‘slots’’ DHHR is requesting for each year. DHHR is now preparing its new plan for fiscal years 2011-2015, according to the Gazette. Let’s hope it does an accurate job in estimating the needs and that the state comes up with an adequate amount of money to fund its share.