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Elder-Friendly Amendments in Latest Health Bill

At a session that ended at 2:18 a.m. on Friday, October 2, the Senate Finance Committee completed its markup to health reform, the America’s Healthy Future Act. The bill contains some recently added amendments that are of great interest to elders.

The bill now includes an amendment offered by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) that “would protect against spousal impoverishment in all Medicaid home and community based services programs by requiring states to apply the same spousal impoverishment rules currently provided to the spouses of nursing home residents in Medicaid. The provision would sunset after five years.”

The bill also incorporates the provisions of the Elder Justice Act (S. 795), which would establish “Offices of Elder Justice” in the Department of Health and Human Services and in the Justice Department and provide federal resources to support state and community efforts to fight elder abuse. Elder Law Attorneys contributed to the effort to see the Elder Justice Act included in the bill. At the NAELA Annual Meeting in Washington DC this past spring, NAELA members visited with many members of Congress and spoke forcefully for the bill.

The Community First Choice Option, a watered-down version of the Community Choice Act, which has stalled in committee, was also added to the bill at the urging of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). The amendment would create a state plan option to provide community-based attendant supports and services to individuals with disabilities who are Medicaid-eligible and who require an institutional level of care.

An amendment offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) would give increased Medicaid funding to states that make reforms shown to divert recipients from nursing homes to home and community based care.

Now that the markup is over, the bill is being translated into formal bill language and a completed bill will be sent to the Congressional Budget Office for its prediction of how it will affect the federal budget deficit. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has promised that his bill will at worst have a neutral effect on the budget deficit over 10 years.

Sen. Baucus said that CBO could have its “score” for the bill ready by Tuesday, October 6, and he said he would like the committee vote on the bill that week. “[I]f we’ve got a problem [with the CBO score], then we’ll come back and we’ll have to make some adjustments,” Baucus warned.

Senate leaders hope to combine the Finance Committee’s bill with the health care reform billdeveloped by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

In other health reform news, Vice President Joe Biden has reiterated the administration’s supportfor the CLASS Act, which would establish a new national long-term care insurance program that would offer basic help to the elderly and disabled. The CLASS Act is included in the HELP committee’s reform bill. (For more on the CLASS Act, click here.)