Potential Medicaid cuts collide with silver tsunami in Larimer County – The Coloradoan

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Democrats requested an additional analysis of the GOP health care bill’s long-term effects on Medicaid from the Congressional Budget Office.
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The Larimer County Office on Aging is already bracing for the silver tsunami, and now questions about federal Medicaid funding have added another layer of concern for a growing number of seniors.

Republicans in Washington, D.C., are tinkering with a bill to change how the federal government handles Medicaid — one staple in a larger overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the draft bill released in mid-June — it has since been pulled back for further tinkering — would reduce Medicaid spending by $772 billion by 2026 and ultimately cull 15 million people from its rolls.

The Colorado Health Institute, a non-partisan health policy think tank, estimated the hit to Colorado alone could be $15 billion. With the state budget already strained by transportation and education funding needs, and an inflexibility in bringing in more money, it left advocates worried about what the effects might be.

“As you’re aging and you require more health services, I can only imagine the anxiety that people might be feeling,” said Heather O’Hayre, deputy director of Larimer County Human services. ”A large number of our seniors are living on a fixed income and if they can’t afford health services — and health is one of the most basic needs for anyone, regardless of their age — and if you’re anticipating cuts to those services, I can only imagine the worry and anxiety that they’re feeling.”

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Created by the sheer size of the Baby Boomer generation, the silver tsunami refers to the wave of U.S. residents reaching retirement age, which has not yet crested but is expected to in the next decade. 

Fort Collins’ population of residents age 65 and older is expected to double by 2030. 

One-fifth of people who use Medicaid in Larimer county are 50 years old or older, accounting for 12,324 people, according to Larimer County Human Services statistics.

That includes almost 4,000 individuals who are of Medicare age, the health insurance program for the elderly. 

Depending on their income, residents age 65 and older might use a mixture of Medicare and Medicaid to cover medical costs, such as prolonged stays in skilled nursing facilities. 

In 2015, 61 percent of certified nursing home residents in Colorado relied on Medicaid to pay for their care, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In Larimer County, there are 2,860 beds in skilled nursing homes and assisted living homes, with 72 more scheduled to come online in 2018.

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The new beds won’t accept Medicaid, according to Larimer County Human Services. Rather, they would rely on patients paying privately or with other insurance.

O’Hayre said her office, which administers Medicaid funds for the county, has dealt with limited budgets before. She said they would try to avoid revoking current services that individuals receive, instead re-examining eligibility requirements to stretch dollars as far as they’ll go. 

“We can come up with great projections of what service needs might be, but if we don’t have the funding to provide it, we’re at the mercy of our allocations,” she said.

Her office is watching the U.S. Senate bill carefully, but with it still in limbo, she can’t predict what the effects on Larimer County seniors might be.

The stereotype that Medicaid is a service only for the working-age poor is incorrect, O’Hayre said, it’s also for individuals nearing the end of their lives. 

Many seniors are on a fixed income, O’Hayre said, which magnifies any cost increases.

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