Asm Health Committee passes Wood’s bill package to support vulnerable seniors

Thursday, April 11, 2019

SACRAMENTO–Today the Assembly Health Committee passed a package of three bills authored by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) to improve the support California provides for vulnerable seniors.

Seniors are California’s fastest-growing population. Between now and 2026, the number of Californians 65 and older is expected to climb by 2.1 million, according to projections by the state Department of Finance. Seniors will make up a sharply larger share of the state’s population by 2060 — the only age bracket to grow in scale.

“Within this ever-growing population, we have some of our most vulnerable seniors who often have to make difficult choices – to pay for their rent and utilities, see a doctor, or purchase groceries or the medications they need,” said Wood. “We need to protect our vulnerable seniors and my goal this year is to make a positive difference in their lives.”

There are nearly 1.2 million low-income seniors enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal program. Some of these seniors who are temporary residents of skilled nursing facilities are eligible for a Medi-Cal deduction called the “Home Upkeep Allowance.” This allowance allows a person to keep $209 every month, for up to 6 months, for the maintenance of their home while they’re temporarily residing in one of these facilities.

“These seniors could be on the brink of losing their homes and we need to prevent that,” said Wood. “This allowance has never been increased in 40 years and is totally inadequate to allow seniors to maintain their homes. AB 1042 is intended to ensure that they have the best chance of returning to their home after a stay in a skilled nursing facility.”

Another bill, AB 1088, will help prevent seniors and people with disabilities who are dually enrolled in Medicare and Medi-Cal from losing their Medi-Cal coverage when the state begins paying their Medicare Part B premiums, which covers physician services. This amount, which is $135.50 per month (or $271 for a couple) can be just enough to increase their countable income for purposes of determining their Medi-Cal eligibility to cause them to be dropped from no-cost Medi-Cal and shifted to share-of-cost Medi-Cal which is often hundreds of dollars.

“My bill will prevent seniors and people with disabilities from falling in and out of Medi-Cal eligibility and we just can’t let that happen,” said Wood. “This bill will stop this unfair process by disregarding the state’s payment for their Medicare premium as income and allowing them to maintain consistent coverage.”  

The third bill in the package, AB 715, would raise the income eligibility level for the Aged and Disabled Medi-Cal program. Right now, a person under age 65 can be enrolled in Medi-Cal if they have income below 138% of the federal poverty level. But when they turn 65, their eligibility level drops down to 122% of the federal poverty level. That means a senior who is 65, with an income even $1 over 122% of the federal poverty level, is only eligible for Medi-Cal that requires an expensive share of cost, usually hundreds of dollars, which many seniors are unable to pay.

This is unacceptable. By raising the income eligibility level to 138%, AB 715 will help ensure that these vulnerable, low-income seniors are treated fairly and can continue to have access to affordable medical care.

In addition to these three bills, Wood also requested two funding items in the state budget at a hearing last week. One is for a one-time $25 million in increased support for the state’s Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP), a program that serves almost 12,000 frail seniors over the age of 65 who, although eligible for nursing home care, wish to remain in their homes. The majority of MSSP clients live alone, subsist on approximately $1,000 per month, and have complex needs that require medical and social services support. This program provides assistance such as home-delivered meals, Paratransit services, assistance with hygiene and daily activities, counseling and adult day care.

“Significant cuts were made to this critical program during the recession years and those cuts have never been restored, no less increased,” said Wood. “The investment in this program will save people from having to go into a nursing home and save the state money because data shows that MSSP client costs are half that of patients in nursing homes.”

At that same budget hearing, Wood asked for an annual commitment of $5.2 million to support the more than 300,000 Californians living in licensed long-term care (LTC) facilities. The LTC Ombudsman Program provides advocacy services to residents of nursing homes that help ensure their safety and well-being. “This request will provide $3.7 million for an additional 150,000 hours of unannounced facility visits by paid staff and volunteers and another $1.5 million to perform an additional 8,000 investigations of the thousands of complaints that come in to them each year,” said Wood. “Protecting the residents of these facilities is a high priority, especially for those residents who do not have family or others who can visit regularly.” 

“This package can help prevent many seniors from having to make unbelievably difficult decisions,” said Wood. “We can’t have our seniors choosing between paying for rent and food or a visit to the doctor’s office or the medication they need.”

You can see the video of the press conference here.