The escalating cost of health insurance is forcing the Panhandle Health District to lay off workers and cut a program that serves hundreds of senior citizens from the Canadian border to the southern tip of Benewah County.
The health district is dropping a program June 30 that enabled senior citizens to stay home even though they may need help cleaning their homes and bathing.
But clients in the program probably won’t notice the change. Private industry will take over the service and charge less, primarily because it doesn’t provide health insurance for its certified nursing aides.
“We can’t afford to pay for health insurance,” said Marcia Rowley, co-owner of Personal Care Inc. Her company is one of four picking up the 270 clients the health district is dropping. “It’s totally out of whack with reality.”
Aging and Adult Services, a state agency, has a federal grant to cover most of the costs of bath and homemaker aides. The agency contracts for those services with the health district’s home health division. The health district began offering the program 14 years ago after it became too expensive for the state Department of Health and Welfare to provide, said Jeanne Bock, health district director.
The district paid for the costs Aging and Adult Services didn’t cover with money Medicare sent to agencies that provide home health services in rural areas. Panhandle Health collected about $100,000 last year in Medicare rural money. The bath and homemaker program took $64,209 of it.
This year, Medicare dropped its payments for rural service at the end of March. That cut, plus a 14 percent increase in health insurance costs for district employees this year and a projected 10 percent increase next year, killed the bath and homemaker aide program, Bock said.
“It’s just a burden we can’t accept any longer,” Bock said.
The program’s end will mean job changes for 10 homemakers and three bath aides, she said. The district will move some to other jobs and lay off some. Bath aides are certified nursing aides who complete a three-month training program for certification. Homemaker aides require no special training but have to be able to lift at least 50 pounds.
“We’re giving letters of reference, updating resumes, and I asked Job Service to offer a retraining class,” Bock said.
Private industry will pick up some of the laid-off certified nursing aides, Rowley said.
“The big thing is, though, they’ll lose their health insurance,” she said.
Personal Care offers its employees $50 each to help pay for monthly health insurance that employees must find for themselves. No certified nursing aides have accepted the offer, Rowley said.
A Full Life Agency, another home health business, provides no health insurance, said Julie Fertig, administrator.
“We can’t,” she said.
The switch from the public sector to the private one pains Pearl Bouchard, director of Aging and Adult Services’ North Idaho office. The four private agencies she has chosen to replace Panhandle Health’s services charge less than the health district, she said. But she knows they also pay lower salaries and don’t provide health insurance.
“I don’t have a choice,” she said.
The four private agencies, which offer services in all five northern counties, most likely will drop the program’s cost enough that Bouchard will be able to take some senior citizens off the waiting list for services. She said 69 people are on the list, waiting for in-home help that her agency couldn’t afford through Panhandle Health.
While Rowley said she isn’t pleased the health district has to lay off workers, she said the move is a plus for the business sector.
“We’re excited,” said Rowley, whose company employs 75 workers, many part time. “It gives our employees some job security. We’ll need to hire to fill in some of the gaps. We’ll try to hire the health district employees first.”
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