Monday, December 14, 2009

Elder Care Survival Key Concern At County Forum

Courier News

Kane County, Il -- Nearly 100 Kane County elder care providers, senior citizens and their advocates discussed federal and state issues relating to elder care during a legislative forum Monday in St. Charles.

The event was sponsored by Kane County Senior Resources, Asbury Gardens, Countryside Care Center, Heritage Woods of Yorkville, and the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging.

Among challenges discussed were the state of Illinois' lagging Medicare payments to small businesses that provide elder care and services.

Betty Schoenholtz, executive director of Senior Services Associates, said state payments to elder care providers -- many of whom are small-business owners -- have lagged for months because of the state's budget shortages.

"It is of great concern to me what is happening to our (provider) agencies," Schoenholtz said, adding that those funds would help stimulate the economy through purchases made by small businesses. "When the state of Illinois doesn't pay its bills, we can't buy things from small business ... We hope (state legislators) can step up to the plate and resolve these issues."

She also recommended that legislators change state law to require the Illinois Department of Public Health to allocate at least $750,000 into the ombudsman program, or to implement a "bed fee" similar to Ohio's, which requires a $6-per-bed fee to help offset costs to agencies. Schoenholtz also said the elder abuse program is owed $134,000 from the state and that the figure represents one-third the budget for elder abuse cases.

Lucia Jones, executive director of the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging, also said she is concerned about how the state's budget issues are impacting service providers.

"The providers are all small-business owners," Jones said. "The numbers they serve are going up tremendously, because of the economy ... . There are hundreds and thousands of families in the state of Illinois in need of elder care; and if the ombudsman program is cut, those people will have to go into long-term care."

AARP spokesperson Heather Heppner also provided an update. "We have spent a very long time advocating to prevent cuts to community-based services. We know it is more fiscally responsible to care for individuals in their homes than in institutions," she said. "We have providers who have not been paid this entire fiscal year ... . Senior services need to have a heightened level of priority."

She also noted that AARP endorsed the Affordable Healthcare for America Act.

"On the House bill side, it was not perfect ... but the bottom line is that our health care system in this country is broken, and the things our AARP members have told us are important issues are addressed in that bill," Heppner said. Older adults were at times paying up to seven times more in insurance rates than younger adults, she said, and the health care act would cap age rating at two to one.

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