Legislators embrace waiver program

For too many years, state policymakers viewed West Virginia’s Aged and Disabled Waiver program for Medicaid patients in exactly the wrong way. They saw it as an expense to be avoided.

Now, however, state legislators have seen the light. The waiver program saves both the state and federal governments money – while providing better care for low-income older and disabled West Virginians.

But with lawmakers’ change of heart comes a duty to ensure the program provides quality services.

We have been among those who, for years, advocated more funding for the program. It allows Medicaid patients who cannot function entirely on their own to stay in their homes rather than be shipped off to nursing homes. The waiver program can pay for in-home care for those people.

That usually costs much less than a nursing home stay. Every West Virginian kept out of a nursing home by the waiver program saves the state thousands of dollars a year.

And, of course, most people prefer to stay in their apartments or houses, rather than go to nursing homes.

Legislators went an extra mile for the waiver program this winter, in deciding how much to appropriate for it in the coming fiscal year. In part through an agreement with Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to transfer money out of his office for use in the general fund budget, lawmakers were able to increase the Medicaid waiver line item by $5 million. That will provide a total of more than $37 million next year.

That, in turn, should reduce the number of older and/or disabled people on the waiting list for the program. About 2,600 are waiting for “slots.”

During the coming year, state health care officials should take a look at oversight of the waiver program. Are those under it receiving quality care? Is the state getting its money’s worth?

Nursing homes must comply with an incredibly demanding array of state and federal regulations. It is appropriate the in-home care providers not have to meet the same burden.

Still, some requirements – including periodic compliance checks – should be in place.

State officials have done the right thing for both taxpayers and elderly and/or disabled West Virginians. Now, the priority should be ensuring they receive quality care.