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Health and Long-Term Care Program Integration - Program Of All-inclusive Care For The Elderly, Social/health Maintenance Organization, Screening And Service Coordination In Medicare Hmos

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The health and long-term care service delivery system is compartmentalized. Physicians, usually the primary care physician, are responsible for outpatient care. Inpatient care is usually under the management of a medical specialist, such as a surgeon, cardiologist, or neurologist. Care after the patient leaves the hospital includes home health care, rehabilitation, and skilled nursing home care. These services, although authorized by a physician, are usually more directly managed by a nurse or therapeutic specialist (e.g., a physical or occupational therapist). Extended care, whether in a nursing home or in the community, is often considered to be long-term care. Long-term care includes "skilled" services provided by a nurse or therapist, as well as the "nonskilled" care provided by a nurse's aide, personal care aide, or housekeeping services. The vast majority of nonskilled long-term care services are provided by family members, but they can also be purchased from private individuals and community agencies. Home or community-based long-term care services, if not directly coordinated by the patient or a family member, are typically planned and monitored by a social services case manager.

The distinctions among these multiple levels of care, and between skilled and unskilled care, are directly connected to the financing and reimbursement processes. The major public insurance program for health care is Medicare. This federally financed program provides coverage for physician, hospital, and skilled home health and skilled nursing home care. Extended or long-term care and unskilled care are usually excluded from Medicare reimbursement. Payment for these services comes either from the patient or the patient's family; or from public programs such as Medicaid or the Veterans Administration (for those who qualify). State governments also use social service programs to finance some unskilled care.

Historically, each level of care and each financing program has operated within its own budget. Under this arrangement, any cost savings from the substitution of lower levels of care for higher ones add costs to the program financing the lower-level services and produce savings for programs financing the higher levels of care. For example, reduced days in a hospital save Medicare costs, and may result in transfers to nursing homes, which have a lower daily cost than hospitals. Nursing home stays of up to one hundred days are likely to be paid by Medicare, but more extended stays usually are paid for privately or through Medicaid. Another example is the decision by a family to keep a member at home rather than place him or her in a nursing home. For those who qualify for Medicaid coverage, the availability of informal family care saves Medicaid costs, and pushes all the cost to the family. For the relatively few persons with private long-term care insurance, this would be a cost savings to insurance as well.

State governments have tried to encourage informal care by permitting persons eligible for Medicaid (who also qualify for nursing home admission) to receive a portion of the funds that would have gone for nursing home care for the purchase of unskilled home care. This is done within the Medicaid program under home and community-based care. This approach begins to solve the problem of limited financing for community-based, long-term care services (for those who have incomes and other assets low enough to qualify for Medicaid), but it does not integrate health care and long-term care.

Several promising approaches to acute and long-term care integration are briefly described here: the Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), the social/health maintenance organization demonstration, screening and care coordination in Medicare HMOs, the use of geriatricians and geriatric care teams, and managed care within the Medicaid program.

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