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February 19, 2014

Bill to help more elderly stay at home stalls

INDIANAPOLIS — Proposed legislation that would reduce the waiting list for a popular program that provides in-home care for the elderly may be stalled in the Indiana General Assembly.

The bill would give local agencies that serve the elderly more flexibility to offer low-cost, short-term services that make it easier for clients to stay at home — and out of nursing homes.

Supporters say earlier intervention — with steps as simple as installing grab bars in showers to prevent falls — would result in savings. That would stretch the $42 million the state allocates to CHOICE, which stands for Community and Home Options to Institutional Care for the Elderly and Disabled, allowing the program to serve more people.

“Clearly if we intervene sooner, there will be less need for long-term services,” said Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, chairman of the House Public Health Committee. Clere co-authored the bill with his Democratic predecessor, Rep. Charlie Brown, of Gary.

But opponents object to the bill’s new financial limits on who receives services. The bill would lower the amount of assets a person can have to receive CHOICE-funded services, and it would require clients with more income to pick up a larger share of the program’s cost.

Supporters say those changes won’t have much impact because 90 percent of CHOICE clients have incomes less than $25,000.

Despite strong bipartisan support in the House, the legislation hit a roadblock Wednesday when Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, the powerful chairwoman of the Senate Public Health Committee Chairman, voted against it in committee. Miller sent the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where some fear it may die.

Miller — the only no vote — said she “had concerns” about the bill but didn’t elaborate.

Local Agencies on Aging use CHOICE dollars to serve about 5,000 elderly Hoosiers each month, providing help with basic tasks such as grocery shopping and bathing. About one-fourth of those served by CHOICE are over age 85.

About 2,600 people remain on the waiting list for services. Under the current program, it takes a long time for someone to move off that list.

“The largest number of people getting off the waiting list are people who’ve died,” said Elmer Blankenship, president of the Indiana Alliance for Retired Americans. “That’s a terrible way to get off a waiting list.”

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