With all the talk of closing nursing homes and kicking granny to the curb, it was refreshing to hear Texas lawmakers discuss a bill aimed at improving care for the elderly.
Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously passed a bill by state Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, that would help expand the national Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).
PACE is a Medicaid program that provides an alternative to long-term institutionalization and nursing homes by providing community-based health care services for the elderly. Under the program, independent NGOs coordinate local medical services as well as meals and transportation, creating a comprehensive healthcare network. The biggest benefit of the program is that the elderly are able to continue living at home.
“The program provides the elderly with an option on how and where they get their healthcare,” Amanda Fredrickson of the AARP of Texas said.
Instituted as an approved Medicaid program in 2001, there are now 3 PACE sites in Texas. However, accessing these programs isn’t necessarily easy. PACE isn’t always made available as an option to the elderly and financial barriers prevent the transfer of Medicaid funds for the PACE program in certain situations—like when grandma is already in a nursing home. Deuell’s bill would eliminate those financial obstacles and ensure that the elderly are refereed to PACE programs.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that Texas shows their resolve to expand the program as an integral part of the Medicaid program,” a representative from the National PACE Association said.
Advocates of the bill argue that the PACE program not only offers better individual attention and care for the elderly, but would end up saving the state money. The program costs the state 10 percent less than placing an individual in long-term nursing care. Supporters of the program also claim that by focusing on long term preventative care—things like dieticians and in-home caretakers, the state would also save money on hospitalization and nursing home costs. Joaquin Garcia, The Chief Financial Officer for Bienvivar, one of the first member sites of the national PACE program, estimates that his El Paso non-profit alone saves the state $6.8 million per biennium.
“Just think of what would happen if you expand that statewide,” Garcia ruminated.
Democratic Sen. Jose Rodriguez who visited the Bienvivir PACE site in his home town of El Paso strongly supported the bill. “Not only is it a program that saves significant dollars,” Rodriguez said, “this is a program that really makes a difference in people’s quality of lives.”
The other state senators seemed to agree with Rodriguez. The bill passed out of committee unanimously.