Is Vermont affordable? Is it a good place for aging Americans? It is, at least according to the SCAN Foundation, a charity that works to encourage independence for older Americans, and the AARP.

Vermont just won the organization’s first Pacesetter Prize for Affordability and Access. The award was given on the criteria that it has improved its AARP score immensely, moving ranks from 19 to 3 overall on its Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard.

The scorecard ranks states based on criteria ranging from quality of life and quality of care to choice of setting. Its scores on affordability and access, however, showed the largest jumps in score, and those factors weighed heavily. The prize is also awarded on the fast growth of these programs.

“The state has brought in more Medicaid and, instead of cutting taxes, Vermont reinvested in aging services and home-based services,” Bruce Chernof, President and CEO of The SCAN Foundation, said.

The Choices for Care program was rolled out in 2005. Its focus: giving aging Vermonters the choice of how to get care, whether in nursing homes or at home. The program had excess money left at the end of the year and, instead of moving it to other places in the state’s budget, the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living put it back into other programs.

At a ceremony last Thursday at the state office complex in Waterbury, Governor Phil Scott touted the agency’s Choices For Care program.

“The Choices for Care program has enjoyed support on both sides of the aisle since its inception because I believe we are aging in Vermont, it’s not a partisan issue,” Scott said.

He said Choices for Care was “designed and implemented to help us shift the balance from institutional care to community-based care. When we started out there were 34 percent eligible Vermonters needing long-term services. And they received their care in the community. Now, in 2017, it’s 54 percent.”

Megan Tierney-Ward, director of the adult services division, said reinvestments over the years have helped to “expand moderate needs services and preventative services.” She said the reinvestment, paired with expanded Medicare and Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act has provided more resources for more people to access the programs. The services include Adult Family Care, and an expanded choices program.

“Vermonters are independent,” Tierney-Ward said, getting at why the choices programs works so well for the state.

Long-term success is also an important aspect to the Pacesetter Award award.

“It isn’t purely about the boomers right now, it’s GenX and millennials too,” Chernof said. “Their needs are going to look exactly the same as the boomers. It’s a durable system, building for the long term”

Vermont is also aging faster than other states – 28 percent of Vermont’s population in 2030 will be over 65 years old. Strong and affordable programs are going to be vital to Vermont’s demographic shifts.

The numbers just keep climbing as the state’s demographics age. So long as the expanded Medicare and Medicaid are safe, Tierney-Ward sees these programs continuing to grow.

“We have been on a pretty steady trend since the beginning of the program,” Tierney-Ward said about the influx of people into the programs.

An aging population doesn't mean everyone is going to be put in nursing homes or assigned nurses at home. The preventative programs are probably the most helpful for ensuring aging Vermonters will be able to stay as independent as possible.

The state is also starting a new program called “Reframing Aging in Vermont.” The program seeks to “reframe what aging is and how we see older Vermonters as a resource,” Tierney-Ward said. A healthier aging population would be the best case scenario for ensuring independence.

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