Homecare workers, a bargain, are vital to California

It is bad enough that our governor and legislative leaders have been playing Russian roulette with the lives of nearly a half million low-income elderly, blind and disabled Californians, and those who care for them at home.

It appears likely that there will be significant cuts in the In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program. That is because the state finance director and the state treasurer have made public statements saying they believe that not enough federal stimulus money has come into California to offset $10 billion in general fund expenditures.

IHSS saves state taxpayers millions of dollars a year by keeping people in their own homes rather than forcing them to go to nursing homes.  The average yearly cost for an IHSS patient is $13,000 a year, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), compared to $60,000 a year and up for nursing home care. Yet nursing homes get fully funded while IHSS gets cut.

To make matters worse, political ideologues at the state and county levels now have launched a campaign to discredit homecare providers by claiming that there is “widespread” fraud in IHSS. It seems that everyone from county supervisors and state legislators to the media have jumped on the “fraud” bandwagon.

Before we break out the tar and feathers, however, we need to take a deep breath and put the fraud issue in its proper perspective.

According to a March 24 LAO report, the state paid $1.9 billion in the 2008-2009 budget for IHSS program services. The same report estimates that between July 2005 and November 2008 (a period of nearly four years), a total of $6.1 million in overpayments were identified—an average of about $1.55 million a year.    

OK, so even if every penny of the $1.55 million in overpayments is the result of fraudulent activity, which is not stated or proven in the report, that means we’re talking about $1.55 million out of a nearly $2 billion budget (only about 3 percent).  Problem?  Maybe.  “Widespread?”  I don’t think so.

Here’s another so-called example: Republican State Sen. John Benoit recently cited 21 cases of IHSS fraud in Los Angeles as proof of widespread fraud.  However, he neglected to mention that there are more than 140,000 IHSS providers in Los Angeles. While any instance of fraud is serious, 21 cases in a universe of 140,000 providers hardly makes an epidemic.

Let me be clear: Home-care providers and those who represent them believe that funds for IHSS from the federal, state and county governments should be used honestly and effectively and that any fraud and abuse should be eliminated from the program.

For example, this year United Domestic Workers (UDW) is sponsoring Assembly Bill 378, introduced by Republican Assembly Member Paul Cook, which would create training standards in the IHSS program.

Two years ago, UDW sponsored legislation (Senate Bill 868) signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger that also helps fight fraud and abuse in IHSS. Unfortunately, Sen. Benoit and some of the others who are now complaining so loudly about fraud in the program voted “NO.”

It is also important to understand that the state and the counties are free to tighten up background checks, institute tougher program standards and reporting requirements, and increase training of home care providers.  As I said earlier, we support such efforts.

UDW welcomes the opportunity to work with county and state government and political leaders, providers and their clients to help insure that IHSS continues to serve our state’s most vulnerable citizens effectively and efficiently.  

We do NOT welcome and will not stand for partisan grandstanding and overstatement which uses unproven allegations of widespread fraud as an excuse to weaken or destroy this valuable and cost-effective program.

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