Friday, September 12, 2008

Federal "Elder Justice" Acts Appear Elusive

On September 11, 2008, in an update entitled "Senate Finance Committee Approves Two Bills To Help Prevent Neglect, Abuse of Elderly Patients", the Kaiser Health Daily Policy Report stated: "The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday by voice vote approved two bills that seek to prevent neglect and abuse of elderly patients, CQ Today reports."

One bill (S 1070), sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would authorize $777 million to establish state and local training and assistance programs for long-term care employees. In addition, the legislation would establish a database used to identify and track elder abuse cases. * * * A companion bill (HR 1783) awaits a vote in the House.

The second bill (S 1577), sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), would seek to establish a nationwide system of background checks to screen potential long-term care employees for a history of abuse or a violent criminal record. The legislation, which would expand a seven-state pilot program established under the 2003 Medicare law, would provide as much as $160 million in grants over three years to states that seek to participate in the program. * * *
The posting noted that, according to CQ Today (Mattingly, 09/11/08), the Senate "has a limited number of days to try to reach agreement with the House on the bills, which groups representing America's elderly are pushing as a major priority."

AARP supports the federal legislation, as described in its Bulletin Today in the article "What the Elder Justice Act Would Do" (07/11/07), by Elizabeth N. Brown. The National Council on Aging also supports it, as explained in its Issue Briefs: Elder Justice Act – S. 1070 and H.R. 1783.

Indeed, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, "a coalition of over 56 national not-for-profit organizations concerned with the well-being of American’s 87 million people over age 50," forwarded a letter to the co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee urging immediate action. See: Letter in Support of the Elder Justice Act and the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007 (PDF, 2 pages).

We are writing to express our support for the Elder Justice Act and the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007 and to urge you to mark-up this landmark legislation and move it to the Senate floor as soon as possible when the Senate returns from its state work period.

With few legislative days remaining in the 110th Congress, it would be a tragedy to allow any more older Americans to suffer the pain of abuse, neglect, and exploitation because Congress failed to act. * * *

But, in the past, facing similar opportunities, Congress failed to act on such bills.

A federal "Elder Justice Act" was proposed in each of the past three Congressional sessions -- as the Elder Justice Act of 2002 (S. 2933), the EJA of 2004 (S. 333), and the EJA of 2006 (S. 2010). The Senate Finance Committee had approved the last two versions, too.

But no enactment occurred.

For evidence of past failed attempts, read the few "News" updates posted by the Elder Justice Coalition since March, 2004.

As to the status of the current legislation in this Congressional Session, see: Elder Justice Act Update presentation (06/24/08), by Bob Blancato, National Coordinator, of the Elder Justice Coalition.

The House version of an Elder Justice Act,
H.R.1783, introduced on March 29, 2007, would amend the Social Security Act to enhance the social security of the Nation by ensuring adequate public-private infrastructure and to resolve to prevent, detect, treat, intervene in, and prosecute elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and for other purposes.

It is also noteworthy that, in this Congressional session, Pennsylvania Representative Joe Sestak (7th District, Delaware Co.) sponsored H.R. 5352, The Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2008, which was reported favorably out of the House Judiciary Committee in June, 2008.

He promoted it in the Press Release "
Congressman Joe Sestak Testifies on Elder Abuse" (04/23/08), which noted that the "[f]irst hearing on senior abuse in 17 years in the House of Representatives addresses Congressman Sestak’s Elder Abuse Victims Act."

"With 2 million senior citizens, the third largest elderly population in the country, this legislation is particularly important to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, my home state."
* * *
"[A]s as Hubert Humphrey once said, the moral test of a government is how it treats the elderly, those in the twilight of life."

-- Rep. Joe Sestak, in House Testimony on April 23, 2008