Hundreds of seniors lobby Georgia capitol, demand funding, policy changes
By Maggie Lee
Jean Sherwood says there’s a number that’s making health care unaffordable to some seniors. That number is $12,384. Make more than that, and you’re out of luck if you’re asking for some help with Medicare premiums, deductibles and co-pays.
“You don’t go to the doctor and then you end up having more hospitalizations because of that. Because you weren’t able to do preventative medical care,” said Sherwood.
“We have people who are only one dollar a month over the amount for Medicaid. And they have to have insulin, which is $115 twice a month,” said Penelope McCalley, also from the Oaks Resident Advocacy Group, a group of seniors from a pair of buildings in DeKalb County.
“So what does that person do? That person regulates her insulin so it lasts two months,” said McCalley.
So Sherwood, McCalley and others from the Clairmont Oaks and Briarcliff Oaks senior buildings came to the state Capitol on Wednesday to give lawmakers a message: help out folks whose income is as much as $18,500. That’s still below the poverty line, they note. For a generation of people who’ve been through recessions, and maybe single parenting, job loss, catastrophic diseases — and maybe don’t have a lot of cash in hand.
“As the baby boomers come in, there are more that are going to need this help,” said McCalley.
McCalley was speaking about the Oaks’ No. 1 issue, the health coverage for low-income seniors.
But baby boomers getting older and needing more funding and services? You could repeat that same comment in a lot of policy areas.
And a few hundred seniors have already come to the Capitol this year with messages on what they’re looking for as they get older.
“It can seem overwhelming. We’ve known for a while that this demographic is heading in this direction,” said Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging, an official advisory group to the state government. With CO-AGE, a coalition of groups and individuals, GCOA has helped organize some of the Capitol visits from constituent-advocates on senior issues.
One of the over-arching things these organizations and people look at, Floyd said, is keeping people as independent as possible for as long as possible.
So for that senior independence, there are several things her organization, other organizations, advocates and seniors are working on this year.
For one, they’d like more funding for in-home care, $10 million dollars in funding. For example, that might include simple homemaker services, chores or personal care.
Or it could mean home meal delivery — which can make sure a mom or grandma or aunite who needs to stay away from the stove still gets a hot meal in the middle of the day when their caregiver is at work.
Other policy priorities from GCOA include more funding for getting the word out about independent living options. There’s a hotline now folks can call (1-866-552-4464, option 2) with questions about how to get long-term supports and services. But more money would increase capacity, and maybe also result in a new website. And another: updated and higher fines and fees for personal care homes that don’t follow the rules.
Another ask is a legislative study committee on “options” for senior living and the policy to do it: what kind of housing is there for folks who can’t stay at home, but yet don’t need an expensive Medicaid nursing home bed — and how can Georgia get folks into those places? Some states, for example, offer some level of assisted living care through Medicaid.
(It’s true that a “study committee” can be a way to kick a can down a road forever. But when leadership is serious, it’s also a very good way to work through complex issues and come up with bipartisan, bicameral legislation.)
The Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is on board with that study committee idea, said Kathy Simpson, its state director of public policy and advocacy.
And and also with a $10 million ask in funding for home- and community-based services.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s draft budget for the year that begins in July includes $1.8 million in home- and community-based services. (Plus a separate line item for meals, at almost $1 million.)
Simpson said she’s glad to see that proposed $1.8 million spending on home- and community-based services. But she’d like to see more.
“That still leaves 6,000 on the list and that list continues to grow because are aging … and persons with disabilities are growing older and having greater needs,” she said.
About 100 folks came to Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at the state Capitol on Feb. 5. And one thing they talked about was wanting an $350,000 appropriation for an awareness campaign, to tell the public about risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, to teach folks about warning signs and to urge early screening and diagnosis of patients.
That dovetails with the BOLD Act, a new federal law that sends funding to states to help build public health infrastructure — things like increasing early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and related dementias and stepping up data-gathering on the conditions.
And it seems their advocacy worked at the state Capitol. The day after the awareness day, a committee added $350,000 for that public information campaign into a draft budget moving through the state House.
And maybe people in the Legislature are looking at the same greying trend that Floyd thinks about.
“The Legislature has definitely considered the issues,” said Floyd. “But there’s still a lot to be done, for sure.”