A new report estimates that 27,000 Mainers would be eligible for services if voters approve a ballot question this November to establish universal home care.
Supporters of Question 1 say the report released Thursday by the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School shows the promise of how the universal home care proposal would improve services in Maine. But opponents say the study serves as a warning about its likely pitfalls.
According to the report, about 5,600 people currently receive state-funded, in-home support. But nearly five times as many are in need of services.
“There are 27,000 Mainers who need assistance with daily tasks, like bathing and getting dressed. But people in Maine who need care aren’t getting it under the current system,” says Stephen Campbell is from PHI, a national organization that advocates for quality care.
PHI and other supporters of Question 1 touted the findings of the report during a conference call on Thursday. The Muskie School doesn’t take a position on Question 1, but the report was paid for by the Service Employees International Union, which has provided financial backing to supporters.
The purpose of the study was to evaluate how the universal home care program, which would be the first of its kind in the country, could be implemented.
“The report makes clear that implementing the universal home care proposal is not only possible, but that implementing the program could allow the state to support long-overdue reform efforts,” says Kevin Simowitz, political director of the national organization Caring Across Generations, which also supports the ballot initiative.
Universal home care would be implemented and managed by a board made up of direct care providers, workers and those who receive services. The report notes that one of the board’s tasks would be to coordinate with existing state programs to avoid creating negative consequences, such as unfair differences in services or workforce shortages.
Opponents of Question 1, including Jeff Austin of the Maine Hospital Association, see that as a caution sign.
“That is a huge takeaway I think from this report, that everybody should pay heed to, and that is they point out there are a lot of pitfalls in trying to somehow merge this program with existing programs,” he says.
Austin says the universal home care proposal has the potential to set up a two-tier system. That’s because it promises to boost direct worker pay, but existing state programs have to work within set pay scales and reimbursement rates.
Austin says the hospital association and other opponents, including the Home Care and Hospice Alliance and the Maine Association of Community Service Providers, believe that the way to improve home care is to build on existing programs.
“And not just try to build an entirely new program off on the side and come jam it in without talking to the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the agencies that have provided this service for decades,” he says.
There are other points of dispute about the proposal that the report does not address. One is around the funding for the program, which is through a 3.8 percent tax on income.
Supporters say the tax is only on individual income above a certain threshold, but opponents say the tax would also apply to household income, placing an undo burden on working families.