Medicaid Program Teams Up with Insurers to Ease Caregiver Crisis

The aging population and shortage of caregivers in Arizona has created a near-crisis. The state has responded by pairing its Medicaid program with three insurers in an effort to create a steady long-term care workforce.

Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) inked contracts with Southwest Catholic Health Network Corp., Banner-University Family Care and United Healthcare Community Plan. The Department of Economic Security’s Division of Developmental Disabilities will also be assisting in the effort.

Those organizations are collectively tasked with creating a sustainable solution to the caregiver workforce shortage by 2024.

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Overall, the goal of the program is “to ensure that Arizona is prepared to meet the projected need for licensed and unlicensed” caregivers in the coming decades, AHCCCS spokeswoman Heidi Capriotti told the Arizona Daily Star.

Over 26,000 AHCCCS members that are 65 and older, blind, or disabled and at risk of institutionalization will be served by the three insurers, according to the Arizona Daily Star report.

In addition to that, high school programs will be implemented to prepare Arizonians for a career in long-term care. Southwest Catholic Health Network Corp., one of the participating organizations, is also committing $2 million across the state to recruit, train and hire 6,000 to 10,000 direct care workers in the next two years for the initiative.

Although Arizona faces a particularly steep aging population, the lack-of-caregivers problem is a nationwide issue.

A recent analysis from the New York-based PHI National found that in the decade spanning from 2018 to 2028, the in-home care industry will need to fill an estimated 4.7 million home care jobs.

The number of job vacancies in the direct care industry — personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants — is projected to reach more than 8 million over that same time period.

The concept that Arizona is implementing to address the problem isn’t totally new. A similar federal effort has been made by the Administration for Community Living (ACL).

The ACL, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is working to establish a “caregiver Peace Corps.” The program will aim to mobilize volunteers as the existing Peace Corps does.

This effort, however, will obviously be domestic.

Despite demand, meager wages put potential caregivers in a tough spot. As recruiting and retaining quality workers gets harder, large gaps are left in the workforce.

“The ACL sees this program as an opportunity to identify and fill gaps in communities where there is perhaps less of a workforce or programs to assist family caregivers and older adults,” Greg Link, director of the ACL’s office of supportive and caregiver services, told Home Health Care News in November. “We also see this as an opportunity for the volunteers who wind up participating to learn skills that they could use to pursue a more formal type of employment, such as with a home care provider.”

The caregiver workforce is in a bad spot and the aging population reality isn’t going away. The ACL recognized the need for intervention, and stepped in on a federal level. The AHCCCS recognized it on a state level. 

While there’s no indication as to whether either of these missions will be successful yet, it does reassert both the massive problem at hand and the urgency required for organizations to create solutions.

Arizona’s population aged 60 and older is projected to grow more rapidly than any other in the state, according to Sarah Hauck, MercyCare workforce development administrator.

“And, in Arizona, experts expect a nearly 43% increase by 2025 of individuals 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s,” Hauck told the Daily Star. “It’s important to us that all of these individuals can live with dignity and as independently as possible. Our investment in developing the home-health workforce is part of that commitment.”

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