Thursday, April 18, 2013

House approves additional funds for home health care for seniors

By Meredith Colias

The Illinois House approved a temporary fix in an attempt to solve a $173 million funding shortfall for a program that provides in-home services for the elderly.

The Community Care Program in the state Department of Aging administers services including adult day care and pays providers to help its elderly clients at home with everyday tasks such as errands, groceries and bathing. It is estimated the yearly costs to care for elderly in their homes are about one-fourth the cost of paying for someone living in a nursing home.

Pending the potential influx of money, Department of Aging Director John Holton confirmed that the agency does not have the funding in its budget to pay providers until next  fiscal year’s budget funds become available on July 1. To cover that shortfall, the House approved a supplemental appropriation that will keep the program operating through the remainder of this fiscal year.

Jacquie Algee, director of relations for Service Employees International Union health care, said the House vote was a positive development, since 85,000 people depend on services paid for by the state. “We’re really pleased that [they] did the right thing, in our opinion,” she said. If the measure passes the Senate and is signed into law, she said, providers dependent on payments from the state “should be in a good place.” A similar issue could also arise in Fiscal Year 2014 because the department is scheduled to use about $142 million of that year’s budget to pay off expenses from FY 2013.

 Rep. Patricia Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican, said dealing with unbudgeted expenses was less than ideal because the state was forced to divert money from a plan to pay past Medicaid bills that were matched by the federal government. “Those are all pressures above the line. How are you going to pay for that?”

 Because demand for the Community Care Program is expected to grow in the years to come as the elderly population grows, other lawmakers are looking for ways for the program to cut its future costs. House Bill 2275, sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat, hopes to avoid a similar situation in the future by prohibiting the department from pushing off bills onto the next year’s budget unless approved by the comptroller and governor.

The legislation would also restrict the amount of hours that employees are allowed to claim for tasks such as doing laundry and be subject to GPS tracking to make sure they are actually going to homes to take care of clients. “All of the levers in the bill need to be pulled in order for this to work,” she said of the efforts to cut costs. It is necessary to make sure the services can still be provided, she said. “If we don’t pay these bills, what is going to end up happening is the doors of community care providers around the state of Illinois are going to close, and seniors will have nowhere to go except for a nursing home,” she said.


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