By Tim Poor
The General Assembly’s budget cuts this year directly affected thousands of older adults on low incomes, but Jinny Hopp is hoping the 2018 session will reverse the impact.
Reductions in spending for home- and community-based care eliminated services to about 8,300 older and disabled Missourians. The expiration of a program to help pay for medications will affect more than 60,000.
Hopp, an AARP volunteer in Carthage who leads a caregiver support group, said the cuts will make it harder for people to stay in their homes rather than moving to institutions like nursing homes. She talks with legislators who say the cuts are needed to save money.
“It’s frustrating that they look at you and say, ‘Families should take care of each other,’ then they go back and succumb to the dollars-and-cents arguments. It’s a false savings,” Hopp said. “When they cut these budgets, they send people back to the emergency room for care or to nursing homes, which are more expensive.”
The programs that were cut paid for part-time caretakers who provide services to low-income people on Medicaid. The change increased the level of disability needed to qualify.
Legislators passed a bill to restore funding, but it was vetoed by Gov. Eric Greitens (R).
Restoring money for home health care services is just one item on the AARP agenda when the legislature reconvenes Jan. 3, said Jay Hardenbrook, AARP Missouri associate state director for advocacy.
Push for CARE Act
AARP’s top priority is passage of the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act. It would allow every hospital patient to designate a family caregiver and require hospitals to make attempts to inform that person before a patient is discharged, and to show the caregiver how to perform medical tasks at home.
The measure died in committee in the last two sessions. At least 39 states and U.S. territories have enacted similar legislation.
Other AARP goals in the upcoming session include:
Restoring the MORx plan, which helps low-income people with Medicare Part D pay up to half of their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. The legislature cut aid to an estimated 64,000 residents who earn more than $22,311 annually. The cuts could save about $15 million out of an annual budget of $27.8 billion.
Resisting utility rate increases. Hardenbrook expects electric utilities will try again to get automatic rate hikes approved to avoid oversight by regulatory commissions. Water utilities also want the ability to raise rates when usage goes down.
Keeping the “circuit breaker” property tax rebate for renters as well as homeowners. Low-income older residents and those with disabilities may qualify for a tax credit of up to $750.
Shawn D’Abreu, a Jefferson City lobbyist for social service groups who has worked with AARP on many issues, said some legislators wanted to eliminate the tax credit for renters in order to restore cuts to home health services.
“We think it’s a false choice,” he said. “We’re talking about the lives of people who need these programs in order to live.”
Interested in being a volunteer advocate? Contact Hardenbrook at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim Poor is a writer living in Clayton, Mo.