Gary Rotstein's What's New in Aging: Delay OK in new long-term care program

Nancy Zionts, chief operating officer for Pittsburgh’s Jewish Healthcare Foundation, has been working as hard as anyone to help the region prepare for an overhaul of how elderly and disabled individuals receiving government help will be provided long-term care and other health-related services.

But she was hardly disappointed Thursday to learn those changes she supports won’t be coming as soon as envisioned.

Ms. Zionts was among many receiving an email from the Wolf administration advising that the Community HealthChoices implementation scheduled for Jan. 1, 2017, in 14 southwestern counties had been pushed back six months to the following July. State officials acknowledged they needed more time to properly educate local consumers about changes they’re facing next year as the first wave among 420,000 Pennsylvanians to be covered.

“I’m glad they’re [postponing] because it will provide the necessary time for the appropriate outreach and planning and building of networks,” Ms. Zionts said. ”Making sure everybody is comfortable before you launch is really a very positive step.”

Since the Wolf administration’s announcement a year ago that it was developing Community HealthChoices as the type of managed care program already launched in other states for Medicare-Medicaid recipients, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation has been the primary resource locally circulating information about the plan to those affected. It has sponsored multiple meetings for state officials, managed care insurers, health care agencies, medical institutions, long-term care housing providers, consumer advocacy groups and others to share information and concerns.

The state has yet to select which among 14 interested managed care organizations will be selected to participate in Community HealthChoices, and those MCOs have yet to create networks of home care agencies, nursing homes, medical care providers and others who will become responsible for services to subsidized individuals. A number of stakeholders, including advocates for the disabled, have been skeptical of the time frame the state was using to make those decisions and to explain the new system to affected consumers before Jan. 1.

“It was always envisioned as a tight time frame,” Ms. Zionts said of the plans by the state’s Office of Long-Term Living. ”We would have had an all-out, full-court press to get there [in educating consumers] by Jan. 1, but the better path is to do it in July.”

The state’s hope is the new system will reduce avoidable — and costly — hospital visits and nursing home stays by using MCO care managers who more closely coordinate clients’ health needs. By increasing those individuals’ access to preventive screenings and in-home services, the goal is that their health and independence will be maintained longer while costing the government less. 

Upcoming Events in Aging:

• The Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging is making $20 in funds for purchases at local farmers markets available at senior centers on June 14. Individuals 60 and older meeting income guidelines can qualify for four $5 checks to be redeemed at farmers markets. More information on the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, including proxy forms to designate someone else for pickup, is available by calling 412-350-5460 or through the county’s web site.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.



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