Page Reviewed / Updated - Apr. 2017
This is a Medicaid program for elderly and / or disabled Tennessee residents that require the level of care typically provided in a nursing home and have elected to receive care outside of that environment, either in their home, the home of a caregiver or family member, in an adult foster care home, or in an assisted living community. For eligible individuals who prefer to reside in a nursing home, services are also provided under this wavier. A wide range of personal care assistance and support services are covered, supporting both the person in need of assistance, as well as the primary caregivers of those who remain living in the community.
Personal care services are provided to assist eligible individuals with activities of daily living (ADLs), as well as instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), such as bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, eating, grocery shopping, and preparing meals. Also of great interest is the support of assistive technology, personal emergency response services, and minor home modifications to make a home safer and more accessible.
The word CHOICES in the program's name stems from the fact that some of the services can be "consumer directed." This means they are offered based on the Medicaid Cash and Counseling model in which participants are provided with the flexibility and choice to self-select their care providers. One option that is very popular for self-direction allows the care recipient to employ friends, neighbors and certain family members as caregivers. Spouses and legal guardians or individuals who have a Power of Attorney for the elder are not eligible to become paid caregivers through this program.
This program has qualification criteria regarding the applicant's age, functional ability, and financial situation. Applicants must be disabled and at least 21 years of age. If they are 65 or older, full disability is not required, instead they should require the level of care typically provided in nursing homes and / or be "at risk" of moving to a nursing home if they don't receive care.
Financially, applicants must qualify for Tennessee Medicaid's long-term care services. There are income and asset restrictions. The 2017 income limit for an individual applicant is gross monthly income of $2,205. This figure is adjusted annually per the federal Cost of Living Adjustment (CoLA).
The individual asset limit is $2,000 in countable assets. This excludes certain resources like pre-paid burial plans, wedding rings, and one's home, if valued under $560,000 and the applicant lives in the home, and one vehicle. Assets that must be included in one’s application include the value of any checking, savings, or investment accounts, and the cash surrender values of any life insurance policies.
Applicants over these limits may still qualify if they are married and their spouse is not applying. Under these circumstances, only the applicant’s income is counted and their non-applicant spouse's is disregarded. In 2017, a non-applicant spouse with income below the Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance of $2,002 must receive enough of the applicant’s income to reach that level to allow for housing and living costs. Further, the non-applicant spouse can retain half of the total joint resources, up to $120,900 in funds.
Another alternative is to distribute excess income into a Qualified Income Trust or Miller Trust. This also can effectively lower income to the eligibility limit. Some excess resources can be converted to non-countable assets. This process is called Medicaid planning. One can learn more here.
This program provides services that help individuals remain living outside of nursing homes, as well as provides some services in nursing home facilities. Some of these services may be self-directed.
Under certain circumstances, TennCare will limit the value of the home care services that the participant receives to $15,000 per year.
Interested individuals should contact their local Area Agency on Aging or visit the TennCare Choice website to learn more about the program. Alternatively, one can call their toll-free number at 1-866-836-6678.
The CHOICES program is available statewide. However, a waiting list for services may exist and prioritization is not necessarily first-come, first-serve. Persons who are currently residing in a nursing home and wish to return home receive higher priority.