Sal Rosselli: Governor’s charge on home care is the fraud (Sacramento Bee)

NewsJuly 22, 2009

By Sal Rosselli
Special to The Bee

Tonight, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sits down in his Jacuzzi with a stogie, 440,000 frail seniors and people with disabilities are facing the future with fear. These Californians, who rely on the state’s In-Home Supportive Services to live safely in their own homes instead of nursing homes, have become the most prominent scapegoats for Schwarzenegger as he fails to fix our broken state budget.

The governor has tried every year to gut IHSS, which provides hundreds of thousands of Californians with the basic assistance they need to prepare and eat meals, dress themselves, bathe and use the bathroom.

This year, his initial proposal was to slash the state’s share of caregivers’ wages and benefits all the way back to the minimum wage of $8 per hour while pulling the plug on all services for 90 percent of those who depend on them. While details of this week’s budget deal are still emerging, the $226 million reduction in IHSS funding could condemn thousands of Californians to institutional care, actually increasing the state’s cost.

Because the public opposes these cuts, he has wrapped them in a mantle of “reform” he claims will eliminate “fraud and abuse,” reducing costs by 25 percent.

The governor’s incredible claim that fraud accounts for 25 percent of the IHSS budget is implausible even according to studies conducted by his administration. His 2007 IHSS Quality Assurance effort found that fraudulent overpayment occurred in only 1 percent of the 23,823 cases reviewed. County data of actual fraud referrals show even lower numbers, with recent studies showing less than 1 percent of Los Angeles County cases and 0.3 percent of San Bernardino County cases being referred for fraud. In Sacramento County, a similar study showed only 0.2 percent of cases were accepted for prosecution.

Assembly Budget Chairwoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, has assailed Schwarzenegger’s move, concluding that “the governor has been unable to produce evidence to support his claim that 25 percent of IHSS costs are due to fraud,” and that Schwarzenegger’s new crusade “is just another proposal to gut the IHSS program using fraud as a fig leaf.”

But that hasn’t stopped the governor from smearing opponents of his cuts as accessories to the crime of IHSS fraud. Legislators who oppose the cuts are being accused of “protecting” caregivers, as if they were engaged in a criminal conspiracy. He has extended his attacks to caregivers and their unions, accusing them of resisting background checks and other fraud-prevention measures.

Here too, the facts do not support the governor’s spin. Home-care advocates, home-care providers and providers’ unions have a documented history of supporting legislation that would increase background checks and protect funding intended to serve seniors and people with disabilities – as long as the cost is not borne by hardworking, low-income caregivers and those receiving care.

We have also pushed for increased funding and improved standards for training that would enhance the quality of care while helping to weed out incompetent and unscrupulous providers. The governor has consistently opposed all of these efforts.

Schwarzenegger’s exaggerated claims of fraud are an attempt to create a false problem against which he can measure false savings to justify cuts that would actually increase fraud and abuse within home-care services.

Slashing home-care workers’ pay to the minimum wage would drive from the work force many experienced home-care providers our communities depend on to deliver reliable, quality care. Instead of a job where dedicated caregivers can put in enough hours to make ends meet, home care would become a job hardly anyone could afford to do well. And with the governor’s cuts also reducing the number of social workers and Adult Protective Services staff members who oversee individual cases, consumers and taxpayers would lose their first line of defense.

These are not the actions of a governor concerned with protecting scarce resources to provide needed care. By purposefully misleading the public, putting hundreds of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities at risk and scapegoating dedicated home-care workers, it is Schwarzenegger who is guilty of fraud.

Sal Rosselli is interim president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Source: Sacramento Bee