Senior citizen advocacy groups gathered at ElderHealth Northwest in Columbia City this morning to take a swing at the  initiatives on this year's ballot that would cost the state revenue.

Their targets? I-1100 and 1105 which would both privatize state sale and distribution of liquor; I-1107, which would repeal a sales tax on soda, candy, and bottled water; and I-1053, Tim Eyman's measure to reinstate a two-thirds legislative majority to raise taxes. According to the state Office of Financial Management (OFM), 1100 would cost the state $76 million-$85 million over five years; I-1105 would cost the state $486 million-$520 million over the same period, and I-1107 would cost the state $352 million.

Gerald Reilly with the Elder Care Alliance said that Washington's senior health care systems are slowly unraveling thanks to $5 billion in recent cuts and a pending round of new cuts. These initiatives would make it impossible to reverse that process, Reilly says. If we adopt revenue-cutting initiatives, "we have just made a very difficult problem even worse."

These potential reductions in revenue would come at a time when the state has already made $5 billion in cuts. And In September, with more bad revenune numbers,  the governor ordered all state agencies to make another  6.3 percent across the board cuts ($770 million overall).

Representatives from AARP, Reillly's Elder Care Alliance, and ElderHealth Northwest all told the same obvious story: Seniors, who rely on government health care programs, have been disproportionately affected by the cuts, and if we lose more revenue from the initiatives on the ballot this November, they will be hurt even more. They also made a not-so-obvious point: In the long run, these cuts don't reduce costs, they increse them.

"Our message here today is that we've already cut the fat. Now we're carving into the meat and the bones of essential state services," said Advocacy Director for the Washington State chapter of AARP Ingrid McDonald.

The specifics back McDonald up. The governor's across-the-board budget cuts have dire implications for seniors on Medicaid: Starting November 1, people in home care will receive an average of ten percent less time with a health professional (on average, that's thirteen fewer hours per month these seniors are with a caregiver). Starting January 1, Medicaid will no longer cover vision, dental, hearing, or hospice care. And starting March 1, the state Medicaid program will no longer cover prescription drugs.

According to Nora Gibson, these cuts are tragically ironic because they will actually increase Medicaid costs. The bottom line is that while these cuts save money for the budget deficit right now, they could ultimately increase the financial obligation Medicaid faces with its subscribers. Reduced home care visits lead to a case manager evaluation of the home care environment. If it is deemed unsafe with fewer hours of home care, the patient goes to an institutional facility which must be covered by Medicaid. And guess what? On average, institutional care costs three times as much as home care, according to McDonald.

And McDonald also notes that leaving the elderly (who are largely low-income patients) with no access to prescription drugs is a recipe for disaster, both for public health and for the taxpayer contributors to Medicaid. "People with mental health issues would no longer be able to get their anti-psychotics, or any medication for that matter. When people who don't get their meds end up in the hospital, we pay."

Plus, we get less money from the federal government. "For every dollar we cut in state Medicaid spending, we lose a dollar from the federal government," said McDonald.

The political message of the day?

"Say no to the beverage industry's proposal to repeal a two-cent tax on soda. Say no to Tim Eyman. If 1053 passes, there's only one thing they're going to be able to do to address the budget deficit: cut, cut, cut," McDonald argues.
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