KINGSPORT — In a Renaissance Center room filled with lawmakers, long-term care advocates and seniors, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen signed legislation Tuesday that will enable the elderly to avoid going to nursing homes and be cared for in their own home.
Bredesen made a major change to TennCare — the state’s largest single payer of long-term care services — by holding the first in a series of ceremonial bill signings for the “Long-Term Care Community Choices Act.”
That change in TennCare, the state’s federally supported Medicaid program, allows more than $1.2 billion in Tenn- Care funds to be more evenly distributed between traditional nursing homes and home- and community-based services.
Prior to the bill signing, nursing homes received 98 percent of long-term care funds in Tennessee.
“About half of the people who are in nursing homes in Tennessee are paid for through the TennCare program,” Bredesen told reporters. “I think (the new long-term care law is) an option that will virtually affect everyone who gets into an age category where they may need some help.”
In 1987, more than 90 percent of total Medicaid long-term care spending went to institutional care and only 10 percent went to home- and community-based services, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The institutional share dropped to about 76 percent in 1997 and then to 63 percent in 2006. Only 37 percent of Medicaid funding remains for home and community services and support, NCSL said.
Bredesen pointed out the nursing home industry has blocked long-term care reform efforts in other states.
He also noted that reform in Tennessee “got lost in the shuffle” of lawmakers dealing with a tight state budget.
“I have seen how much my own mother wants to stay in her own home, and I know there are many families out there who want these types of (home- and community-based) choices,” said Bredesen.
Groups like AARP Tennessee have wanted long-term care reform for nearly a dozen years, said AARP Tennessee President Margot Seay of Kingsport.
“Thousands of AARP volunteers worked on this issue over the years,” Seay said. “We called our legislators. We sent them postcards. We rallied on the steps of the Capitol. ... We told them that when it comes to long-term care there is no place like home.”
State Rep. Nathan Vaughn, D-Kingsport, called the bill signing one of Bredesen’s finest hours.
“So many times we say these are their golden years. And when we take people out of their homes and put them in facilities when it really isn’t necessary, that’s just not right,” Vaughn said of the law’s need.
State Rep. Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton, served on a long-term care study committee that tackled the reform effort.
“My first question was: Does the governor have the same passion for long-term care as he does for education? The answer was yes,” Williams said.