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Home care for elderly again proposed

To slow down runaway long-term care costs, Florida lawmakers are looking again to send the elderly back home.

With the cost of nursing home care expected to jump from $1.6-billion now to $9-billion in 13 years, officials are scrambling to find less expensive ways to take care of the state's ever-growing elderly population.

Standing with his 71-year-old parents, Rep. Carl Littlefield, R-Dade City, said he was introducing a bill that would allow elderly people on Medicaid to receive care in their own homes or assisted living facilities.

"We have marketed a Florida that does not have its act together in terms of long-term care," Littlefield said. "The paradise has become a paradise lost for most who need long-term care."

The proposal depends on two things: a federal waiver of Medicaid rules and a $24-million budget to help pay for an initial pilot program of about 600 people in and around Palm Beach and Orange counties.

Department of Elder Affairs Secretary E. Bentley Lipscomb said he expected the waiver soon. And Littlefield said the House and Senate are united in an effort to pass the legislation.

The idea is simple: Nursing homes offer the most expensive long-term care and frequently are the only option available to the poorest elderly.

The new bill would allow Medicaid money to pay for screening of elderly who are eligible for long-term care. They could then be sent to their own homes, where they would receive in-home care services, or they could go to other facilities less restrictive than a nursing home, such as a group home.

By moving the elderly to less restrictive plans, the plan projects a one-third savings on the cost of long-term care.

The legislation is similar to a bill that died in the final moments of last year's session after Sen. Fred Dudley, R-Cape Coral, added an amendment that critics charged took business from nursing homes and handed it to hospitals.

Littlefield said he didn't expect any similar amendments would derail this year's plan.

"It looks like the right year," Littlefield said.

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