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Friday, July 18, 2014

Strengthening Illinois’ home care program / Opinion by Cathy Contarino

as appeared in St. Louis Post Dispatch | Opinions by Cathy Contarino on July 17, 2014

An Illinois Medicaid program that gives adults with disabilities vital home care assistance was unfortunately thrust into the news recently. Fourteen workers in the Metro East region were charged with alleged time fraud in the Home Services Program and 15 workers were indicted in the Springfield area.
As an individual with a disability, and a customer of the Home Services Program through the Illinois Division of Rehabilitation, I rely on personal assistants who assist me to live independently and to go to work every day. I also serve as the executive director of IMPACT Center for Independent Living where we advocate with individuals with disabilities of all ages to live full and fulfilling lives of our own choosing. So the news of the alleged fraud is very distressing.
Let’s be crystal clear: Any fraud in the Home Services Program should not be tolerated whatsoever. And those who break the law should be held legally accountable.
The alleged time fraud and possible prosecutions shouldn’t be a reason to completely undermine or diminish an important and vital home care program that supports over 32,000 customers to live in their own homes with dignity, security and privacy. The Home Services Program also employs an estimated 26,000 workers whose service, professionalism, and commitment to consumers make this a valuable investment, especially for the taxpayers of Illinois.
The Home Services Program saves the state of Illinois tens of millions of dollars every year because it reduces institutional and nursing home costs. According to the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, the state pays an average of $4,250 a month for every resident in a nursing home, whereas home care assistance is only one-third of the costs.
But the most concerning issue that came out of the press coverage from the indictments were comments that individuals shouldn’t be allowed to choose our own personal assistants. We should be allowed to choose, for our own sense of privacy or personal security, to have a family member or someone we know and trust to be a personal assistant. That should be our right. One must consider that a personal assistant is intimately involved in our lives and assists us with some of the most private aspects of a person’s daily routine, from cooking and cleaning, to helping to manage medications to bathing and personal hygiene.
Despite the recent news about wrongdoing, the truth is that the Home Services Program is only getting stronger because of five new and important fraud prevention measures implemented from the state.
• On May 22, the Illinois Department of Human Services announced a new timekeeping system for caregivers to safeguard against fraud.
• The state is now requiring all personal assistants undergo mandatory training in preventing fraud and abuse.
• The state is now conducting background checks on personal assistants while also preserving the consumers’ right to hire and choose their own provider.
• The state created an anti-fraud unit within the Department of Human Services to identify potential suspicious cases.
• The Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living, which our local CIL is a partner of, just rolled out a statewide program to provide training to people with disabilities on how to recognize and avoid fraud, abuse and neglect.
All of these fraud prevention measures were either announced or enacted by the state before these recent indictments as a sign that the state is already moving in the right direction.
I am someone whose life has been transformed because of the Home Services Program. It’s why I’m able to work, pay taxes and write this commentary from my desk and continue to advocate for equal rights for all. A few bad apples who were up to no good, who if convicted should be held responsible, shouldn’t take away my independence and the tens of thousands of other individuals with disabilities.
Cathy Contarino is executive director of IMPACT Center for Independent Living in Alton.

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