Opinion

Senior Votes Unbound

These days you can’t watch TV or read a news item without encountering a political ad, article or analysis. Yes, with November 4 fast approaching, election season is upon us.

For many people, this will soon mean standing in poll lines to cast their votes.  That won’t be possible for 3.5 million seniors and disabled Americans, however. These Americans are so infirm that their physicians have deemed them to be homebound.  The distance between their home and their local polling place may be short but, for them, it’s an impossible journey.

In our democracy, voting is both a privilege and a right – not just for those who can make it to their polling place, but for all.  The fact that so many of the 3.5 million homebound Americans spent their lives working and fighting for our nation makes their plight even more compelling.  As a result, it is imperative that homebound Americans be afforded an equal opportunity to cast their vote.

Fortunately, action is being taken to secure that opportunity.

Through the Bring The Vote Home Initiative, the home health community is erasing the distance between homebound seniors and their polling place.  The initiative includes an easy-to-use website – www.bringthevotehome.org– that enables seniors to access a simple how-to guide as well as voter registration and absentee ballot forms specific to their home state. These resources can be downloaded and printed, and they are also being provided directly to seniors in their home by home health clinicians.

In addition, the Bring The Vote Home website features a short animated video on the voter registration process and the importance of voting.  The website also enables candidates to share their views about home healthcare with seniors in their community.

In short, Bring The Vote Home seeks to restore homebound seniors’ ability to exercise their right to vote.  That the home health community is working to make this happen is not surprising – after all, more than one million professional caregivers bring medical treatment services to seniors so that they can remain independent, in their homes, and out of institutional facilities.  Bringing them the tools to remain active participants in the democratic process is a natural complement.

To be sure, the need for this resource is large – and growing.  America’s senior population is one of the fastest growing in the nation, with an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day.  Naturally, this means the Medicare population is growing too and, with Americans living longer lives, the number of homebound seniors needing skilled medical treatment care at home is projected to rise.

Seniors receiving home healthcare are among the most vulnerable patients in the Medicare program. According to an Avalere Health analysis of federal data, these seniors are older, sicker, and poorer than all other Medicare beneficiaries – combined.  They are also more likely to be female, disabled, and a member of an ethnic or racial minority group than are all other Medicare seniors, too.

These seniors’ vote matters now more than ever, as the home health community grapples with an unprecedented 14 percent cut between 2014-2017.  This severe funding reduction has caused many home health providers, including those that serve seniors in primarily rural areas, to face the grim prospects of bankruptcy and closure.  Indeed, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has conceded that this cut will leave “approximately 40 percent” of all home health providers operating at a net loss by 2017.

According to detailed analyses by Avalere Health, over one million Americans who currently receive home health are on the brink of losing access to this vital healthcare service, and the jobs of 465,000 professionals who provide that care are similarly threatened.

Voting is not a right that expires with age.  That’s why Bring The Vote Home works to make this right a reality for seniors and disabled individuals who are too infirm to leave their homes. Recovering from a hospital stay or managing a day-to-day chronic condition is difficult enough – attempting the inherently American right to vote should not be.

Eric Berger is CEO of the Partnership for Quality Home Health, a coalition of community- and hospital-based skilled home healthcare agencies dedicated to developing innovative reforms to improve the program integrity, quality, and efficiency of home healthcare for our nation’s seniors.

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