House Restores Vetoed Elderly Home Care Dollars

Friday, July 11, 2003

Al Norman – Mass Home Care

House Restores Vetoed Elderly Home Care Dollars: $2.4 Million will provide 866 seniors with a full year of home care help. Another $1 Million Still Uncertain

STATEHOUSE – Thursday evening lawmakers on Beacon Hill voted to override Governor Mitt Romney’s veto of $2.4 million in home care services dollars. The House of Representatives voted 151-0 to restore the funds.

            According to Mass Home Care Executive Director Al Norman, the veto override provides enough money to provide 866 disabled elders with home care services for an entire year. The annual cost of home care services is $2,790, while the cost of one month in a nursing home is $3,025.

            Norman called the House vote unusually symbolic, because it also marked the maiden speech of freshman lawmaker Rep. Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover). L’Italien once worked as a home care case manager, and is one of few lawmakers who have directly worked in the elderly home care field.

            I am a mother of four young children,” L’Italien said on the floor of the House, “and have been doing that for the last ten years.  I was a home care worker prior to that.  I understand this topic quite well.  We have an opportunity to buy independence for some of our seniors.  We need to understand what these dollars mean to seniors.  We can maintain elders in their community, which is what they want.  They want choice.”

L’Italien noted that Massachusetts spends only 10% of its Medicaid long term care budget on home care—the rest goes to institutions. She noted further that federal law requires disabled people to receive care in “the least restrictive setting”.

“We really need to put money into community-based placement,” L’Italien concluded. “This is the most caring and compassionate way to approach our seniors.  In the words of the late elder advocate Frank Manning, putting an elder on a waiting list is like calling 911 and being put on hold.”

Norman said he expects the Senate to endorse the House override on home care services next week. Still on the table are Gubernatorial overrides of three other items of concern to senior advocates: $1 million in congregate housing funds, $1 million in elderly care management funds, and $590,000 for Councils on Aging.”

“This year we felt a lot like clay pigeons at a shooting range,” Norman said. “With so many shots being fired at your program, you figure eventually you’re going to get hit.” Last fall, the program narrowly avoided a $6.5 million cut when Governor Jane Swift took program cuts off the table.

According to Mass Home Care, the home care budget has been level funded at $130 million for the past three years, and the number of elders today being served is at about the same level it was at in 1981. The program has fallen 28% below its high mark of 45,000 seniors per month in the late 1980s.

The legislature has increased its funding commitment to the most disabled seniors, providing the “Choices” program for elders at risk of nursing home placement.

Norman called the home care program a “smart fiscal strategy” at a time when officials are looking for ways to rein in the cost of Medicaid spending. “Home care honors the preference of seniors to remain at home, and helps the taxpayers by avoiding costlier forms of care,” Norman noted.

Overrides of the other home care line items in the House could come up next week.