Forum: Malloy’s proposed budget ‘devastating’ to vulnerable seniors [NHRegiser]

March 23, 2015

Op-ed by Sen. Kevin Kelly, as it appeared in the New Haven Register

Every person deserves to age in place independently, with dignity and access to quality care.

Caring for seniors and promoting aging in place must be a priority for Connecticut. But after reviewing Gov. Malloy’s budget plan, which includes devastating cuts that hurt some of our most vulnerable seniors, it clearly isn’t a priority for him.

Retreating on aging in place

The governor’s budget makes significant cuts to one of the state’s most valuable aging in place initiatives — the Connecticut Home Care Program. This program is a long-term care alternative to nursing homes that helps seniors live comfortably in their own homes without relying on expensive institutional care. By providing services such as home health aides, chore services and home delivered meals, the Home Care Program gives seniors the tools they need to live independently.

Not only does the program benefit seniors individually, it also benefits the state by reducing Medicaid costs. The average Home Care Program client costs the state approximately $58 per day. That same client would cost the state $205 per day for a nursing home stay; almost four times as much.

Despite the known value and importance of this program the governor intends to increase the participant copay from 7 percent to 15 percent. This increase would raise average copays from $66 to $142, costing participating seniors with limited fixed incomes approximately $76 more each month!

In addition, the governor would close all new entries into the first level of the program. This means people at risk of hospitalization and short-term nursing home care would not be eligible for the program. Instead, people would be forced to wait for care as their health deteriorates, placing them at risk of expensive nursing home care; which ultimately costs taxpayers more than just money. Further, by the time they do qualify for home care, their condition could be so severe that home care is no longer an option.

More broad cuts that hurt seniors

The governor also plans to cut $544,917 annually from the Alzheimer’s Respite Care Program under the State Department of Aging. This means less funding for the almost 70,000 seniors in our state who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia and more difficulties for caregivers.

The governor’s budget would also reduce the Personal Needs Allowance for people in nursing homes from $60 to $50 per month. Currently, when you are in a nursing home under Medicaid, you must reduce all your assets, including your home, to $1,600 and then pay all your monthly retirement income to the facility, except for $60 to pay for day-to-day needs each month; that’s just $2 a day! That’s supposed to cover the cost of things like shampoo, toothpaste and haircuts. Decreasing that allowance to a mere $50 per month means that daily decisions wouldn’t be made over which toothpaste to buy, but whether you could even afford toothpaste over other necessities. These funds are far more valuable in the pockets of seniors than in state coffers.

The governor also plans to reduce funding for funerals of the very poor from $1,800 to $1,000. While this would save the state $3.4 million over the next two years, it would leave many poor and elderly people who have little to no money, without a choice when it comes to their funeral.

Balancing a budget is hard work, but the budget presented to the state legislature is a blind approach when it comes to issues that impact our state’s aging population. In Connecticut, we have always strived to be leaders in social progress, but these regressive cuts will set back the progress of many aging in place initiatives. They hurt members of the greatest generation and make it harder to access quality health care that everyone deserves.