Thursday, April 11, 2013

Home health care providers lobby for funding to cover shortfall

By Meredith Colias

Social service advocates say agencies providing in-home care for seniors could be at risk if additional state money is not set aside to pay them.

The Illinois Department of Aging notified service providers in a letter March 7 that it would soon run out of money to fund the Community Care Program for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. Providers say that $173 million is needed to properly fund service through the end of Fiscal Year 2013. Kimberly Parker, the Department of Aging's spokeswoman, said in an email it was “common knowledge” the legislature did not give the agency enough money to continue to pay providers through the entire fiscal year and that administrators are hopeful additional money could be found. She said that so far, providers have continued to administer services, but without more funding, payment would likely be delayed until the start of next fiscal year.

The program serves mainly lower-income seniors who apply for assistance through the state for home-based long-term care assistance, with everyday needs ranging from preparing meals and running errands to dressing and bathing, according to the agency's website. The program helps to care for an estimated 80,000 senior citizens in the state. Aside from at-home providers, it also helps to pay for background checks for at-home caregivers, adult day centers that watch elderly clients during the day and a program designed to preventing elderly spouses from being burdened by their spouses in-home care and falling into poverty. To qualify, Illinois residents must be at least 60 years old, the state must determine that they need long-term care and they must have less than $17,500 in assets aside from their home, car and furniture.

 Helping senior citizens remain in their homes is preferable for the state from a financial standpoint, since the Department of Aging estimates the costs would be as much as four times higher to pay for an individual placed in round-the-clock care in a nursing home. The Department of Aging estimates 96 percent of the money it receives from the General Revenue Fund goes to the program. The department says the program was underfunded last fiscal year, as well. Part of the reason why the program is facing a shortfall is because it had to use some of the money it received this year to cover last year's costs.

Jacquie Algee, executive director of relations for Service Employees International Union health care, said smaller providers that primarily rely on the state for their operations are most at-risk if the additional funding is not found. “It’s been a problem because it happens every year,” she said. The Illinois Association of Community Care Program Homecare Providers estimates that one-third of its members depend heavily on funding from the Department of Aging and would not be able to continue operations for more than 30 days without it.

Abdon Pallasch, a spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn, said the governor supports restoring the funds to the department, although Pallasch was unsure where money would be diverted from in the current budget to continue funding. “It’s up to the legislature,” he said.


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