Christine Stuart photo

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle stood together Thursday and announced their support for the Medicaid program known in Connecticut as “Money Follows the Person.”

The program will help up to 5,000 disabled and elderly people get out of nursing homes and return home.

With a standing room only crowd of senior citizens, lawmakers failed to mention they deleted parts of the bill that would help those who don’t qualify for Medicaid. They also deleted the creation of a trust fund to help finance more in-home and long-term care options.

Joseph Stango, the Southbury resident who championed this issue after he was forced to place his 84-year-old mother in a nursing home because the state wouldn’t cover the cost of caring for her at home, said he is trying to get those two items restored.

“If you want government to move sometimes you have to push a little bit,” Stango said pointing out the more than 15,000 letters of support for the bill. He said for the past two years he’s been pushing and he’s not ready to give up.

Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, and Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said they are still working on the bill. “Bills live and die everyday. The good news is this bill is still alive,” Amann said. He said leadership would be working on the issue during the budget process.

Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said expanding home care services is a win-win for residents and the state because expanding the availability of the “Money Follows the Person” program from 500 to 5,000 slots will save the state $64 million it would have spent on nursing home care.

However, its more complicated than that.

Brian Ellsworth, president of the Connecticut Association for Home Care and Hospice, said that’s not where the savings are. “Pulling people out of nursing homes is really hardwork,” he said. He said the system saves more money when its able to prevent nursing home placement.

Ellsworth said the plan is laudable, but the savings are exaggerated because home health care organizations haven’t seen a Medicaid rate increase in years. He said Medicaid and Medicare funds for home care have been flat funded. 

In addition if Democrats go forward with their plan to increase nursing home staff hours, they will inadvertently lure home care staff to nursing homes with higher salaries, and create a shortage of home care workers, Ellsworth said.

“Are we going to have the infrastructure in place to do this?” Ellsworth wondered.