The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 26, 2013

Our View: Cuts to senior program seem unwise

Why it matters: Cuts to a program that keeps seniors in their homes seems misguided and costly in the long run

The Mankato Free Press

---- — In these tough times for the economy and taxpayers, we all know we will need to do without some things government has provided in the past. Programs should be evaluated for efficiency. Fiscally-minded elected leaders will face tough choices.

But proposed changes to a Minnesota program that keeps seniors in their homes as they age seems like it will cost taxpayers more in the long run. Dayton administration officials claim the changes need to be made to keep burgeoning human service costs in line. That’s laudable, but a longer term view is necessary here.

The program is funded by state and federal dollars through Medicaid. It provides assistance to seniors in various forms. Sometimes it provides a nursing assistant who can help with medication or a home health aide who can help with cooking and bathing.

The proposed changes would come mostly in how seniors become eligible for the program. In the past, seniors could qualify if they showed an inability to do one basic task necessary for independent, daily living. So, if they needed help bathing or dressing, they would get assistance.

The proposed change would require seniors be unable to do at least four basic tasks necessary for independent living before they would qualify, or one task that was more critical, like being able to go to the bathroom on their own.

The state says the changes will save about $50 million over four years, and about 2,800 low-income seniors would lose services. It says it will create a safety net of sorts for seniors who experience a fall or might become homeless.

But human service groups that provide these services contend the changes would move a lot of seniors from living independently in their own homes at a relatively low cost to the state into more expensive nursing homes. Others worry pulling the personal aid help for some seniors could create dangerous situations where seniors might fall, injure themselves and require hospitalization, thereby increasing the costs again.

It’s no secret the costs of human services will continue to rise with an aging baby boom population and more of us living longer. But these cuts seem like they are the first thought rather than the last resort. They were approved in 2009 under a budget crunch situation and are just now coming to bear.

Surely, there are some other areas that can be looked at first. Pulling the rug out from seniors seems dangerous and more costly in the long run.