CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration will freeze enrollment in a program designed to keep West Virginia seniors from being sent to nursing homes.
Seniors can continue applying for Medicaid's Aged and Disabled Waiver program, but officials can't predict when those who apply for the program after Dec. 5 will be accepted.
About 8,000 West Virginia seniors are currently enrolled in the waiver program, which provides about $25,000 worth of in-home care per year to seniors who might otherwise need to go to nursing homes.
The money goes to professional caretakers, as well as others who could help out seniors, including the seniors' family members.
The waiver program was a contentious political issue for both Gov. Bob Wise and Joe Manchin, who also sought to limit its costs, which are now estimated at $200 million a year, according to information from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
The cost of providing in-home medical care is rising, as is the number of West Virginians in the waiver program. Enrollment rose from 4,700 seniors in 2007 to just over 8,000 in 2011.
Tomblin administration officials said providing state money for the waiver program is optional, whereas other Medicaid programs are not. Indeed, if the state tried to curb costs in non-optional programs, the federal government could penalize the state.
DHHR spokesman John Law said the state is not ending or even cutting the waiver program. The amount of money going to the program is unchanged, but the program will not be allowed to grow.
"There are so many things in Medicaid you can't do, we can take a step without cutting anybody from the waiver," Law said. "We're not reducing any services, we're not freezing any rates -- all three of those things are happening in states around the country. We are merely stopping the expansion."
As it is, the state Medicaid program has a projected shortfall of $187 million by 2014. To blame: rising medical costs, an aging population and decreased federal funding.
"The reality is that we have reached the available funding for all optional programs," Tomblin spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor said Wednesday in an email.