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`Project Independence'

Elderly MCCOG clients face funding test

Six elderly clients with the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments (MCCOG) may be switched from state to federal funding for their home care services.

John Arens, MCCOG executive director, said a select few of the 30 enrollees in the Oregon Project Independence program, one a Hood River resident, will have to undergo a Medicaid eligibility screening. He said that action was necessitated after Gov. John Kitzhaber initiated a $60,000 cut in the agency's OPI budget.

"We need to make cuts in the OPI program and we need to be sure we are serving only those people who cannot receive services from any other source," said the March 28 letter from MCCOG to the six OPI clients.

Although OPI enrollees pay fees on a sliding scale for the same services rendered free by Medicaid, Susan Lowe, MCCOG direct services manager, said many individuals prefer to pay for the services they are receiving. In addition, she said OPI clients are allowed to retain more financial resources than under the federal Medicaid system.

However, she said the Medicaid program lessens the costs for the state since it operates on a 25-50 percent match instead of requiring full subsidization of home care services.

Kitzhaber is being legally challenged over the constitutionality of slashing only a few programs instead of making across-the-board cuts to all public service agencies. That suit was filed in mid-March by plaintiffs that include the Oregon Health Care Association and Oregonians for Food and Shelter.

In spite of the pending court action, Arens said the state is already enacting the cuts in the current biennium's budget. To offset that funding deficit, MCCOG is seeking to follow a legislative mandate to stretch its remaining $212,000 OPI funding as far as possible. The records of the six individuals were reviewed and forwarded to the Senior and Persons with Disabilities Office for screening. These persons will be eligible for Medicaid if they have less than $2,000 of money in their savings/checking account and no more than one family vehicle or residence.

Arens said if a determination is made that these seniors are not Medicaid eligible they will be retained on the OPI program and cutbacks will be made in other areas -- at least through the next 15 months of the budget cycle.

"We're trying to provide services for as many clients as we can with what funding we have available," said Arens.

Last week House Speaker Mark Simmons announced that the Legislature would join the litigation against the governor over his unilateral decision to slash some program funding.

"This state is not run by one office or one person," said Simmons. "I understand that the governor has his own view of how we should manage our state budget but he should not be allowed to make those decisions alone."

GOVERNOR OR GOVERNOR'S OFFICE COMMENT

Kitzhaber vetoed key portions of the budget balancing legislation produced in two special sessions to offset a $846 million deficit. He then decided to address the state's shortfall with his own set of expenditure cuts, a move which has drawn fire from many government officials and service providers.

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