Advocates decry proposed cuts to services for older North Carolinians

06/03/2014 3:38 PM

06/03/2014 4:36 PM

Proposed cuts in the state Senate’s budget to services for older North Carolinians would leave thousands without essential help and others homeless, said advocates who overflowed a Legislative Building meeting room Tuesday.

Representatives of government, nonprofits and business argued that the state’s increasing population of older people means this is the wrong time for the Senate’s proposed reductions in Medicaid and cuts of nearly $1 million from programs such as Meals on Wheels, adult day care and adult day health. Republican budget writers have said cuts in entitlements are necessary to balance the budget and address other needs.

“I couldn’t even dress myself when I started at PACE,” said Nancy Raines, 65, who traveled from Eden to push back against the proposed cuts to programs for older people.

Raines, who uses a wheelchair because of disabilities including diabetes, was one of several other older and disabled people who came to Raleigh as clients of PACE of the Triad, a care program that offers adult day placements and other services. Through training at the center, Raines said, she is able to dress herself, go to the bathroom by herself and perform other daily functions that might otherwise require her to live in assisted living.

Tuesday’s rally at the legislature was put together by the North Carolina Coalition on Aging, a group of more than 40 agencies with interest in older state residents’ issues.

Other options suggested

Speakers noted that the Senate budget also proposes cuts in Medicaid benefits to thousands of older people, people with disabilities and other beneficiaries with high medical bills. Republican sponsors of the bill have said that some recipients will have other options for care, including the insurance exchange that’s part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Advocates for older people said that’s not a workable solution because traditional insurance doesn’t pay for many of the services that would be cut.

In announcing their budget, Senate Republicans said difficult choices had to be made and that the Medicaid cuts are necessary to keep the massive entitlement program from overwhelming other important state funding priorities. Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican and one of the party’s chief budget writers, said North Carolina exceeds federal requirements in offering Medicaid services.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in this chamber who doesn’t feel for people in need,” Brown said Friday.

Efforts to reach Brown and Sen. Ralph Hise, another chief GOP budget writer, were unsuccessful Tuesday.

David Cottengim, president of Resources for Seniors in Wake County, said more than 300 people in Wake who receive help through the Community Alternatives Program for Disabled Adults would lose services and likely require nursing home care if the proposals go through.

“I don’t know where they would find the beds,” Cottengim said.

‘There will be human tragedy’

Lou Wilson, a lobbyist for the state’s assisted living industry, said facilities would have little choice but to release residents who lost benefits under the proposed budget.

“We can’t afford to do away with an entire continuum of long-term care when there’s more and more people that are going to be needing the services,” Wilson said. “There will be human tragedy.”

Rep. Rodney Moore, a Mecklenburg Democrat who spoke at the event, said afterward that he couldn’t predict how the issues of older and disabled people would be treated in the GOP-crafted House budget that’s yet to be released. But he said “serious discussions” should precede any changes.

“These are not numbers we are talking about,” Moore said. “These are real human beings.”

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