Governor’s budget emphasizes home health care for state’s seniors

In the state budget released today by Gov. Tom Wolf, there is a promise of access to home health care services for at least 5,500 senior Pennsylvanians.

A priority for the fourth “oldest” state, Wolf said his plan includes speeding up the approval process for home health care and making programs for home improvements and modifications more accessible to older residents.

The benefits may spread beyond the senior population. The shift toward home health care could add jobs and, because home health care typically costs less than nursing homes, it could save the state up to $130 million a year, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

For every month a person on Medicaid receives care in his or her home or community instead of in a nursing home, the state saves $2,457, Wolf said.

If home health care is cheaper and most people want to stay in their own home, you might wonder why it’s not always the first choice.

Turns out it can take up to 10 weeks to get the state waiver for home care, far longer than it takes to get the waiver to be placed in a nursing home. The timing is important in many cases, including in cases where an elderly person just underwent surgery and needs rehabilitative services quickly.

To bring about the savings and improvements, Wolf proposed spending an additional $39.2 million on the Departments of Human Services and Aging, partly for workers to speed up the approval process.

Statewide, the Inquirer reports, about 49 percent of seniors who need care receive services at home; the remaining 51 percent become residents of nursing homes. Wolf’s actions could tip the scales.

It could also lead to an economic boost for the 194,000 home health care workers in the state, but the new governor did not estimate how many jobs might be created, according to the Inquirer.

"My actions today are just the first step in rebalancing our long-term care system and increasing opportunities for home-care workers," he said.

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @HalleStockton.