10 Elder-Friendly Bills That May Be Enacted In The New Congress

Fresh from their recent electoral victories, Congressional Democratic leaders are vowing to pursue an aggressive agenda when the 111th Congress opens in January. While the ailing economy will doubtless be the top priority, health care will not be far down the list. Over the past year and a half, lawmakers have introduced a number of bills that address long-term care financing, nursing home care and elder abuse. With a strengthened Democratic majority and a Democratic president, a number of these measures now have a good chance of being enacted into law. Following are summaries of ten promising bills.

Improving Nursing Home Care

  • Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act (S. 2838)

Introduced: April 9, 2008

Sponsor: Sens. Herb Kohl (D-WI), Mel Martinez (D-FL)

Description: Provides that a pre-dispute arbitration agreement between a long-term care facility and a resident (or anyone acting on the resident’s behalf) shall not be valid or specifically enforceable.

Status: Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar for a full Senate vote.

  • Nursing Home Transparency and Quality of Care Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 7128)

Introduced: Sept. 26, 2008

Sponsor: Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA)

Summary: To amend titles XVIII and XIX of the Social Security Act to increase the transparency of nursing home ownership, ensure that residents and their families have information about the quality of care at these facilities, and strengthen enforcement of nursing home compliance with quality of care standards.

Status: Introduced.

Companion or related bills: H.R. 5799, S. 2641

Combating Elder Abuse

  • The Elder Justice Act (H.R. 1783)

Introduced: March 27, 2007

Sponsor: Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL)

Summary: To provide states with resources to prevent elder abuse, increase prosecution of those who mistreat the elderly and provide victim assistance. It will also improve long-term care and support for senior citizens dubbed “at risk.” Note that the bill was introduced by the new White House Chief of Staff in the incoming Obama Administration.

Status: Reported out (amended) by House Judiciary Committee, 6/11/2008

Companion bill: S. 1070

  • Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007 (S.1577)

Introduced: June 7, 2007

Sponsor: Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-WI)

Summary: A bill to amend titles XVIII and XIX of the Social Security Act to require screening, including national criminal history background checks, of direct patient access employees of skilled nursing facilities, nursing facilities, and other long-term care facilities and providers. The bill also would expand a seven-state pilot program established under the 2003 Medicare law, providing as much as $160 million in grants over three years to states wishing to participate in the program.

Status: Reported out (amended) by Senate Finance Committee 9/22/08. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar for a full Senate vote.

Companion bill: H.R. 3078

Fostering Alternatives to Institutionalization

  • Independence at Home Act of 2008 (S. 3613)

Introduced: Sept. 26, 2008

Sponsor: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Summary: A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide certain high-cost Medicare beneficiaries suffering from multiple chronic conditions with access to Independence at Home services in lower-cost treatment settings, such as their residences, under a plan of care developed by an Independence at Home physician or Independence at Home nurse practitioner.

Status: Referred to the Committee on Finance

Companion or related bill: H.R. 7114

  • Empowered at Home Act of 2008 (S. 3327)

Introduced: July 24, 2008

Sponsor: Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)

Summary: A bill to make it easier for states to provide home and community-based services (HCBS) to Medicaid recipients. Revises the income eligibility level for HCBS for elderly and disabled individuals. Authorizes a state to offer HCBS services under a waiver to eligible individuals that differ in type, amount, duration, or scope from the HCBS waiver services offered to other such individuals.

Status: Referred to the Committee on Finance

Companion bill: H.R. 7212

  • Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act (S. 1758)

Introduced: July 10, 2007

Sponsor: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA)

Summary: A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to help individuals with functional impairments and their families pay for services and supports that they need to maximize their functionality and independence. The measure creates an insurance program for adults who become functionally disabled, providing a cash benefit to help obtain services and supports, while providing those with disabilities more choices on community participation, education, and employment.

Status: Hearings held by Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, 7/10/07

Companion bill: H.R. 3001

  • Community Choice Act of 2007 (S. 799)

Introduced: March 7, 2007

Sponsor: Sen. Thomas Harkin (D-IA)

Summary: A bill to amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to provide individuals with disabilities and older Americans with equal access to community-based attendant services and supports.

Status: Hearings held by Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, 7/10/07

Companion bill: H.R. 1621

Making Long-Term Care More Affordable

  • Long-Term Care Affordability and Security Act of 2007 (S. 2337)

Introduced: Nov. 13, 2007

Sponsor: Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)

Summary: Would allow employees to pay long-term care insurance premiums with pre-tax dollars and employers to offer long-term care insurance under so-called cafeteria plans, which allow employees to select from a number of tax-exempt benefits, as well as flexible spending accounts. Bill also would improve consumer protections for long-term insurance.

Status: Referred to the Committee on Finance

Companion bill: H.R. 3363

  • Comprehensive Long-Term Care Support Act of 2008 (H.R. 7095)

Introduced: Sept. 25, 2008

Sponsor: Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD)

Summary: Amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow a deduction from gross income for the cost of long-term care premiums for the taxpayer and certain family members, including the taxpayer’s spouse, ancestors, or lineal descendants. Phases in the deduction over three years. Allows long-term care insurance as a benefit under tax-qualified cafeteria plans and flexible spending arrangements. Allows a $3,000 tax credit for caregivers of individuals with long-term health care needs, with the credit phased in over five years. Reduces the amount of the credit for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over $75,000 ($150,000 for joint returns). Rep. Sandlin introduced the same bill in each of the two previous Congresses, both of which died in committee.

Status: Referred to the House Ways and Means and House Education and Labor Committees

For more information about each bill and links to track the progress of the bills in Congress, visit the ElderLawAnswers.com website.