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Home care programs may gain in new budget

Programs that help poor elders stay in their own households, rather than turn to nursing homes, are now poised to see increases in this year’s state budget if Gov. Deval Patrick signs off.

The largest increase, if the governor approves the state budget agreed on by legislators earlier this week, will add $97 million to services covered by the state’s public health insurance program, MassHealth. The program cost $2.8 billion last year and the 3.5 percent increase has been supported by both Patrick and the Legislature.

Local officials are pleased by potential increases to protective services and expanded care in the home, although some of these items were not supported by the governor in his original budget proposal. Patrick can veto any item when reviewing the budget, although the Legislature could then override a veto with enough votes.

Elder protective services, budgeted last year at $17.3 million, are in line to see a $4.8 million increase (28 percent). Local officials say these services are crucial to counter the 90 reports of self-neglect or allegations of senior citizen abuse. That increase is virtually guaranteed to happen because it is right in line with Patrick’s funding level in his proposal.

But for the Enhanced Community Options Program, which provides advanced Home Care services for elders who need significant care but aren’t on MassHealth, the Legislature disagreed with the governor. While Patrick’s proposal had cut funding to the $47.5 million program, the budget on his desk includes a $5.5 million increase (12 percent).

Roseann Martoccia, executive director of Franklin County Home Care Corp., has said that about 20 to 30 people each month need increased support in the home. “There have been waiting lists for four years in the program, often meaning that a person has some services and help from family but they need more in-home support to remain there,” she said last month.

Grants to local Councils on Aging received a $1.1 million increase by the Legislature (up 11.3 percent from last year’s $9.3 million allocation), but this was another item that Patrick cut spending to in his original proposal.

Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who sat on the conference committee, said the state had been giving towns $7 per elder, but this increase would bump that up to $8. Home Care’s standard services received $97.8 million in state funding last year and the Legislature has allocated $971,000 more (just under a 1 percent increase). Patrick cut that budget by $9,000. And a $360,000 allocation was added to assist seniors in choosing the Medicare plan that best fits their budget while meeting their health care needs.

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