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Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waivers - Overview

This topic provides an overview of the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waivers. These are also known as 1915(c) waivers.


Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waivers afford States the flexibility to develop and implement creative alternatives to placing Medicaid-eligible individuals in hospitals, nursing facilities or intermediate care facilities for persons with mental retardation. The HCBS waiver program recognizes that many individuals at risk of being placed in these facilities can be cared for in their homes and communities, preserving their independence and ties to family and friends at a cost no higher than that of institutional care.

Requirements that may be waived

Under section 1915 (c) of the Social Security Act (the Act), States may request waivers of certain Federal requirements in order to develop Medicaid-financed community-based treatment alternatives. The three requirements that may be waived are in section 1902 of the Act and deal with statewideness, comparability of services and community income and resource rules for the medically needy.

Services that may be provided

The Act specifically lists seven services which may be provided in HCBS waiver programs: case management, homemaker/home health aide services, personal care services, adult day health, habilitation, and respite care. Other services, requested by the State because they are needed by waiver participants to avoid being placed in a medical facility (such as non-medical transportation, in-home support services, special communication services, minor home modifications, and adult day care) may also be provided, subject to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approval. The law further permits day treatment or other partial hospitalization services, psychosocial rehabilitation services, and clinic services (whether or not furnished in a facility) for individuals with chronic mental illness. Room and board is excluded from coverage except for certain limited circumstances.

State Flexibility

States have the flexibility to design each waiver program and select the mix of waiver services that best meets the needs of the population they wish to serve. HCBS waiver service may be provided statewide or may be limited to specific geographic subdivisions.

Target Populations

Federal regulations permit HCBS waiver programs to serve the elderly, persons with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, mental retardation or mental illness. States may also target 1915(c) waiver programs by specific illness or condition, such as technology-dependent children or individuals with AIDS. States can make home and community-based services available to individuals who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid only if they were in an institutional setting.

Waiver Approval

To receive approval to implement HCBS waiver programs, State Medicaid agencies must assure CMS that, on an average per capita basis, the cost of providing home- and community-based services will not exceed the cost of care for the identical population in an institution. The Medicaid agency must also document that there are safeguards in place to protect the health and welfare of beneficiaries.

Waiver Duration

HCBS waiver programs are initially approved for three years and may be renewed at five-year intervals.

Current Waivers

CMS's first home and community-based waiver program was established in 1981. There are currently (as of January 2004) over 260 HCBS waiver programs in effect. All States except Arizona have at least one such program. Arizona is a technical exception, though, because it runs the equivalent of an HCBS waiver program under section 1115 demonstration waiver authority.

You can view the latest summary report of all regular approved home and community-based services waivers at:

The latest summary report of all model approved home and community-based services waivers is at:

Both of these reports require the Adobe Acrobat Reader.

See also:

Medicaid Waiver Templates

Medicaid Research and Demonstration Projects Waivers - Overview

Medicaid Freedom of Choice Waivers - Overview

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