Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Candidates endorse choice of care type covered by Medicaid

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Four candidates for governor Monday night strongly endorsed an idea pushed by some influential human service groups, including AARP: allowing those who qualify for care paid by Medicaid to decide whether to receive it at home or in an institution.

AARP calls it person-centered funding. "It is so American to give people the right to make decisions about their lives," Republican Steve Nunn said at a public forum.

Democrat Bruce Lunsford called it "the kind of creative thought" the next governor will have to engage in because of tight money. Ben Chandler said it was "right ... for the majority of our citizens." Jody Richards said he would "strongly support" such an initiative if elected.

All four said that, if elected, a priority of their first budget would be an experiment with person-centered funding, either under a waiver from Medicaid or in a state-funded pilot program for up to 300 people.

A fifth candidate, Otis Hensley of Wallins, was more general. "I don't believe in running over old people," he said.

The forum was a joint production of AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons; the Centers for Accessible Living; and the Kentucky Disabilities Coalition.

The financial state of Kentucky's Medicaid program was a recurring theme.

The budget recently enacted by the General Assembly assumes a $169 million Medicaid shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1, even after $250 million in program cuts.

All said they wanted to do better, though none said precisely how. "The governor gets first crack at the budget," said Richards, who is speaker of the House. "I would reorder the priorities of the budget so that Medicaid would get its fair share."

All said they would oppose President Bush's idea of giving states a "capped allotment" of Medicaid money, albeit with more state control of how to spend it. The federal government now contributes about 70 cents of every Medicaid dollar. Spending is driven in part by numbers of people eligible.

They also endorsed the concept of "Medicaid buy-in," allowing people with disabilities to obtain health insurance through Medicaid, paying a premium to cover at least part of the state's 30 percent match. The state Department for Medicaid Services opposed the idea in the recent General Assembly.

Three Republican candidates - Ernie Fletcher, Rebecca Jackson and Virgil Moore - did not attend the forum.

Kentucky AARP President Bill Harned said Fletcher, the 6th District congressman, declined an invitation. An aide said Fletcher was campaigning in Shepherdsville and Shelbyville at events long scheduled.

Jackson, who had agreed to participate canceled for the funeral of her mother-in-law. Moore's absence was unexplained.

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