Lawmakers on Beacon Hill have entered the final phase of state budget deliberations for the period beginning July 1, 2014. The House and Senate have passed their own versions of the budget, and must now reconcile the two versions. To accomplish this task, a Conference Committee of six lawmakers has convened to go through the budget line item by line item.
Six advocacy groups for the elderly have sent members of this Conference Committee, and all members of the General Court, a list of items that promote the “community first” movement in Massachusetts, which seeks to help older adults live independently at home.
Here is the letter the elderly coalition sent to lawmakers:
Dear Chairman Dempsey & Chairman Brewer,
The FY 2015 budget Conference Committee deliberations present us with important opportunities to promote “community first” for older adults in Massachusetts. As advocates for the elderly, we want to urge you to work in Conference to advance the issues outlined in this letter.
On the attached page is the list of items that we think best serves seniors, and that we hope will prevail during your discussions. The most significant of these items include:
- $4.63 million in additional home care dollars that will allow an increase in the basic home care benefit package, which has been stuck at $8.76 a day since 2009, enough to provide an additional 1,307 elders with home care services for an entire year.
- $6.1 million for a wage rate add-on of 75 cents per hour for 17,000 home care aides struggling to keep their families above the poverty line.
- $1.3 million for ten new supportive housing sites in the community for more efficient delivery of home care services.
- $750,000 in added meals on wheels funding, enough for 115,384 additional home-delivered meals.
- $360,000 for the SHINE health insurance counseling program that helps adults of all ages find the health care plan that best meets their needs in an increasingly complex insurance marketplace.
- $500,000 for a new Home & Community-Based Policy Lab housed at EOEA.
- $500,000 to develop and submit a home and community-based services state plan to maximize opportunities that expand community services and increase federal reimbursement.
- $250,000 for Project ABLE for workforce and skills training services.
We are challenged to provide sufficient care at home for today’s seniors that allows them to live in “the least restrictive setting appropriate to their needs,” as required under our MassHealth statute. The population aged 65 and over in Massachusetts will increase by over half a million (548,699), expanding from 14% of the state’s total population in 2010 to 21% by 2030.
Home care programs are a smart investment. These lower cost services are part of the reason that MassHealth patient days in skilled nursing facilities have fallen by 4.25 million patient days in FY 2012 compared to patient day levels in FY 2000. SNF patient days have plummeted -33% over this 12 year period. According to an analysis from the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, consumers who were discharged from home care programs in FY13 averaged 34 months of home care program experience of which 10 months were in a program requiring a nursing facility level of care need. The savings to the Commonwealth from these avoided SNF patient days is $1.2 billion over the next 6 years. In addition to this huge “home care dividend,” our work with seniors is bringing in as much as $125 million in new federal matching funds for FY 15 from the Balanced Incentive Payment (BIP) program, and from a proposed 1915i state plan amendment.
We hope that the final FY 2015 budget that emerges from your Committee will enable us to meet the demographic challenges we are facing, and at the same time protect the civil rights of the elderly to remain in integrated community settings.
The letter was signed by:
Carolyn Villers Chet Jakubiak Lisa Gurgone Al Norman
Mass Senior Action Council MAOA Home Care Aide Council Mass Home Care
David Stevens Michael E. Festa
Mass Councils on Aging AARP Massachusetts