The federal government is opening the door to billions of dollars to help individuals with disabilities access care in the community as opposed to institutions, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday.

The funds made available through the recent health care reform act will allow for the expansion of an existing program that assists people living in institutions move into the community. At the same time, the federal agency is proposing new rules to allow states to access additional federal Medicaid matching funds by agreeing to give preference to community based services over institutional settings.

Federal officials are awarding $621 million over the next five years to expand the Money Follows the Person program to an additional 13 states. Under the initiative — which is already in place in 29 states and the District of Columbia — money is available to help people with disabilities who are living in institutions transition into the community with services and supports.

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The new grants are expected to help 13,000 people in Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing rules for the Community First Choice Option, a new initiative offering states access to a combined $3.7 billion over the next three years in additional Medicaid matching funds if they agree to eliminate caps on the number of individuals who can live in the community. That program is expected to begin in October.

“There is more evidence than ever that people who need long-term care prefer to live in their own homes and communities whenever possible,” said Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “To restrict these individuals to institutions where even the simplest decisions of the day such as when to get up, what to eat and when to sleep are made by someone else must no longer be the norm.”

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