Home and community-based services (HCBS) waivers allow states to offer a wide range of benefits and to choose — and limit — how many people receive services. The only HCBS that states are required to cover is home health, but states may choose to cover personal care and other services, such as private duty nursing. Those benefits are generally available to all Medicaid enrollees who need them. States may use HCBS waivers to offer expanded personal care benefits or to provide additional services such as adult day care, supported employment, and non-medical transportation. Because waivers may only be offered to specific populations, states often provide specialized benefits through waivers that are specific to the population covered. For example, states might use an HCBS waiver to provide supported employment only to people under age 65.
States’ ability to cap the number of people enrolled in HCBS waivers can result in waiting lists when the number of people seeking services exceeds the number of waiver slots available. Waiting lists reflect the populations a state chooses to serve, the services it decides to provide, and the resources it commits. In addition, states’ waiting list management approaches differ with regard to prioritization and eligibility screening processes, making comparisons across states difficult. States are only able to use waiting lists for optional services, so the number of people on waiting lists can increase when states offer a new waiver or make new services available within existing waivers; in these cases, the number of people receiving services increases, but so does the number of people on a waiting list. In many cases, people may need additional services, but the state doesn’t offer them to anyone or only offers them to people with certain types of disabilities. The unmet needs of those people would not be reflected in the waiting list numbers. Finally, although people may wait a long time to receive waiver services — 45 months on average — many of the people waiting for services receive other types of HCBS while they wait [read the full article].