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Congress must stand up for seniors

The debt-ceiling debate in Congress continues to be one of the most contentious issues facing our nation. Many of our leaders are scrambling to slash spending and benefits.

As mayor of Beaverton, I am urging our congressional leaders to exercise caution. We must not be blinded by false promises of fiscal responsibility and cut programs that actually save taxpayers' money.

Congress is considering a provision to enact a co-payment for seniors who require home health care services. Essentially, this is a tax increase on seniors. It would take more money out of the pockets of senior-home-health patients, of which three out of five live below the poverty line. Not only is this a tax on the elderly, it creates higher long-term medical costs. Home health care is generally more convenient and less expensive than care provided in a hospital or skilled nursing facility.

Having served many years on the Washington County Aging and Veteran Services Advisory Council, I have seen firsthand the tremendous cost savings of keeping seniors in their homes. Why push people into facilities that cost thousands of dollars per month, verses hundreds for in-home care?

As an example: In 2007, Medicare's average Part A and Part B payment for a home-health visit was just $137, compared with $325 per day in a skilled nursing facility, and $1,447 for one day in the hospital.

The debt crisis is serious, but we must be strategic in how we address it. To add a provision where millions of seniors are obligated to pay new fees - for services they are currently receiving - that just doesn't make any sense.

This will also hurt small communities. More than 500,000 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, home health aides and other practitioners provide home health care to patients. Forty-three million Americans provide home care for an elderly family member or friend. Raising their taxes will force many seniors away from home health care, which will cost their providers their jobs.

I support Congress making responsible budget cuts and finding new revenue sources. However, I cannot support raising the cost of home health care for our seniors.

A better approach would be to focus on eliminating fraud, abuse and waste in Medicare. Reports suggest that if fraudulent activity were stifled - within a series of 25 counties where home health episodes were nearly twice the rate of the United States - Medicare could save more than $700 million annually.

Adding new fees on the backs of our seniors is shortsighted; it will do nothing to reduce the fraud and abuse within the system. If Congress moves forward with this provision, it will lead to unemployment and more jobs lost in our communities, and will not solve our debt crisis.

Join me in urging our congressional leaders to stand up for our seniors.

(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Dennis Doyle is Beaverton's mayor.)