Friday, June 27, 2014

Home Help Program for people with disabilities: Michigan audit finds shoddy oversight, poor management, and improper payments

Michigan's Medicaid-funded Home Help Program that provides services to elderly and disabled people in their own homes is fraught with problems, according to a perfomance audit by the Michigan Office of the Auditor General.

According to the Lansing State Journal from 6/17/14, "Audit: Michigan improperly spent $160M on Medicaid", expenditures on improper payments (where the state failed to obtain sufficient documentation from service providers) accounts for 18% of the $894 million spent on the Home Help program that served about 67,000 people per year over a three year period.

In addition, "...Auditors said nearly 3,800 of roughly 70,000 home health providers had felony convictions, including 572 convictions for violent crimes…"

According to the  Lansing State Journal: 

"The audit also found that the state:

  • overpaid 80 agencies $6.8 million by not making sure they met requirements to get higher fees than individual aides.
  • hired a contractor in 2008 for $1.4 million to visit DHS [Department of Human Services] county offices over three years to review home health cases, yet the case file reviews were not forwarded to the offices for corrective action on time. The Community Health Department blamed a lack of staff for the delay.
  • inappropriately paid $3.5 million for home services when the patients were instead being hospitalized or in nursing homes.
  • did not review thousands of W-2 forms returned as undeliverable, missing a chance to crack down on clients fraudulently getting services or their relatives providing a false address to avoid cuts in the clients’ authorized service level.
  • failed to create a process for caseworkers to refer suspected fraud to the attorney general’s office."
What is the significance of a dysfunctional Home Help Program?
Home Help Services are mandatory under Medicaid, meaning that they must be available to all eligible individuals. Medicaid funding for Home Help Services, paid for by both federal and state governments, is a significant factor in allowing many people with developmental and other disabilities to live in their own homes. It is almost always a component of providing care in unlicensed supported living settings. The findings in the audit of Michigan's program, however, exemplify problems more generally with community care, especially for those with severe, profound, and complex disabilities: funding and the provision of services is so fragmented that the system of care is often unmanageable. This is aggravated in this case by cuts in funding to state government that, if they had not been a legislative priority, might have allowed more and better oversight, ultimately saving taxpayers money and improving the lives of people with disabilities.

Under these conditions, accountability for the provision of services and the expenditure of funds, in addition to assuring the health and safety of the people receiving services, is illusory at best. Federally-funded disability advocacy groups and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that regulates Medicaid and Medicare, are pressuring states to turn away from any kind of congregate care and service settings (settings that serve more than three people with disabilities together), just when innovative care in congregate settings and maintaining high quality care in settings that are considered "institutional", might be a solution to the problems of fragmentation, mismanagement, and lack of accountability. Those who choose and would benefit from care in congregate settings, usually people with more severe and complex disabilities, also cost more to care for regardless of where they live. Congregate settings that offer economies of scale contribute to cost-efficiency and better use of taxpayers' money.

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