Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quinn plans to sign legislation
to fund home health care

By Meredith Colias 

Seniors will be able to rely on funding to continue to pay for state approved in-home care through June 30.

The Senate passed House Bill 207 and HB 2275, twin measures to provide an influx of $173 million needed for the Illinois Department of Aging to cover costs for its Community Care Program for the remainder of the fiscal year and streamline costs as the number of seniors covered by the program continues to grow. Both bills passed the Senate unanimously on 54-0 votes, with five members not voting. The bills now go to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature. His office said he would sign both into law.

The Community Care Program provides funding to service providers that dispatch caretakers for qualified seniors to take care of everyday tasks such as laundry, groceries, bathing and dressing. The 85,000 seniors enrolled in the program have to qualify under economic guidelines. Some are also of varying nationalities who do not speak English as a first language, and in-home care workers provide a cultural touchstone for them. About 70 percent of those in the program are enrolled in Medicaid. Changes to the Medicaid system approved by lawmakers last year would have tightened requirements for the program and reduced costs, but the federal government denied the state’s request to alter eligibility for Community Care.

Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans, who sponsors the bills, said the program “takes care of elderly residents in their homes rather than institutions,” which are much more expensive. The Department of Aging estimates it pays about $8,000 for a caregiver to check in with seniors in their homes but would pay about $32,000 for round-the-clock care at a nursing home. HB 207 provides $173 million the Department of Aging says it needs to continue to pay service providers who care for qualified elderly within their homes.

Without the funding, department officials have effectively been unable to pay service providers since mid-March. Advocates told the General Assembly that smaller providers likely would not be able to operate without resuming payments from the state. The department said the extra money was needed because it was under-appropriated in the current fiscal year. After FY 2014, which begins July 1, the state will not allow the department to push off expenses into the following fiscal year. Rep. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, applauded the move and said the Senate should “not allow these bills to accumulate under the radar.” HB 2275 puts restrictions on workers by using GPS devices to track them to ensure they are properly going to clients’ homes and sets limits for the amount of time workers can claim they took to perform individual tasks.

Scott Vogel, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, said the union restrictions in HB 2275 are reasonable to obtain funding for caregivers.

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