Elders, caregivers fare ok in Gov. Patrick’s $30.5B Mass. budget plan


BOSTON, Jan 27 —

Gov. Deval Patrick has unveiled his state budget for the 2012 fiscal year, one that would further dip into the state’s so-called rainy day fund to help close a projected $1.5 billion spending gap.

The budget proposal unveiled by the governor on Wednesday totals $30.5 billion.

Programs and services for elderly and caregivers suffered some cuts, but for the most part, were level funded at last year’s levels.

The Prescription Advantage program lost $9.88 million in funding. But the Executive Office on Elder Affairs (EOEA) indicates that current benefits levels in the program should be maintained, because more coverage under the doughnut hole is being picked up by the federal government.

“Federal health care reform is saving the state money on prescription drug assistance for seniors, enabling lawmakers to preserve Prescription Advantage while making life saving drugs more affordable for thousands of our most vulnerable citizens,” said Deborah Banda, state director of AARP Massachusetts.

“We urge the legislature to maintain benefits and funding for this program at $21.6 million, in 2012 — and to keep the program strong until 2020 when the doughnut hole disappears,” Banda said.

Prescription Advantage helps about 60,000 seniors in the state, who fall into the doughnut hole, to afford the medicine that keeps them healthy and out of more expensive care, according to AARP. Starting this year, due to the federal Affordable Care Act, seniors in the doughnut hole will receive a 50 percent discount for brand name drugs, and a 7 percent discount for generic drugs.  These discounts will increase yearly until 2020, when the doughnut hole closes completely.

Banda said in a statement, that AARP does have concerns about some proposed MassHealth changes, including increased drug copayments and Adult Day Care eligibility, which may put many people at great risk; and the elimination of funding for the prescription drug prescriber education program.

In the MassHealth accounts, the Adult Day Health programs are going to be restructured so that only “complex” clients are accepted into the program. This is a serious change that may require legislative advocacy to restore, according to AARP and Mass Home Care.

The Home Care Purchased Services account, drops from $101.68 million to $96.781 million, a loss of $4.9 million or a drop of 4.8 percent from the last fiscal year budget.

Level funded at last year’s allocations include:

•The Protective Services/Elder Abuse account, which is funded at $15.25 million. There are 53 new reports of elder abuse received every day, according to Mass Home Care, which said that other populations that suffer elder abuse have more money allotted in the budget.

•The Enhanced Community home care program and care management accounts.

•Meals on Wheels, Supportive Housing and Councils on Aging line items round out programs that are level funded in the governor’s budget.

“In general, we appreciate the governor’s commitment to home care for the elderly expressed in this budget,” said Al Norman, executive director of Mass Home Care. “We were braced for the worst — so we can live with these numbers.”

The state is still trying to recover from the effects of the recession and faces the end of key federal stimulus funds. There are no stimulus funds used in his budget, Patrick said.

Patrick’s spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 calls for withdrawing $200 million from the rainy day fund, leaving $569 million in cash reserves.

The governor said he is again pushing an expanded version of the state’s bottle bill and is proposing a new fee — 2.50 to $2.75 on auto insurance policies —that he said would help fund a permanent State Police cadet class.

Other reductions in Patrick’s budget include a $23 million cut to emergency homeless shelters, a $16 million cut to the Department of Mental Health hospital and a $45 million reduction in spending by ending the practice of hiring private attorneys to represent the state’s most indigent criminal defendants. Patrick would instead hire $1,000 salaried lawyers.

Patrick said his budget plan also would continue to provide tax credits to the film industry; a benefit that backers say has helped create jobs and showcase the Bay State on the silver screen. Patrick last year tried to cap the tax credit at $50 million.

Critics of Patrick’s budget, including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer society, said it will end up forfeiting $6 million in federal matching funds for programs that support the prevention and early detection of disease.

Associated Press, Mass Home Care and AARP material was used in this report.