Obama announces expansion of community living options

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released February 22 the guidelines for states looking to receive part of a $3.7 billion fund for assisting people with disabilities transition out of institutional settings and the expansion of a current program with similar goals.

The Community First Choice Option, created as part of health care bill, provides an economic incentive for states to move people with disabilities into community or home-based settings. For states that meet the proposed guidelines, the center for Medicaid and Medicare Services will provide a six percent increase in federal matching funds for the state’s transitional services.

The guidelines, which total 105 pages, require states to “develop ‘person-centered plans’ for individuals to determine how services are provided to achieve or maintain independence,” and create councils to oversee the plans. The department is currently taking public comments.

The program, which goes into effect in October, is expected to provide states a total of $3.7 billion in new funds through 2014.

“There is more evidence than ever that people who need long-term care prefer to live in their own homes and communities whenever possible,” said Donald Berwick, administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicare Services, in the news release. “To restrict these individuals to institutions where even the simplest decisions of the day such as when to get up, what to eat and when to sleep are made by someone else must no longer be the norm. This new Federal funding will make a difference in people’s lives.”

Thirteen states will also receive $45 million in federal grants through the Money Follows the Person program, created in 2005 to move people with disabilities out of institutional settings. The funding, which also came through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is part of a plan to provide $621 million in federal grants through the program through 2016.

The Money Follows the Person program was originally a five-year program with a goal of moving 34,000 individuals out of institutional settings. It awarded more than $1.4 million in grants to 30 states and the District of Columbia in 2007, leading to the transition of about 13,000 individuals so far.

Washington State received about $19.6 million through the program to assist its Roads to Community Living program, which has helped 625 program move into community and home-based settings.

It is not clear how these programs would be affected by the current budget proposals in Congress.