Illinois lawmakers adjourned their spring session on May 31 without deciding how to deal with the issue of Medicaid payments to spousal caregivers.


 

Kathi Kupferschmid, who tends to the needs of her disabled husband 24 hours a day, had high hopes for a legislative proposal to let full-time spousal caregivers receive the same Medicaid payments as other caregivers.


Those hopes are now on hold. Illinois lawmakers adjourned their spring session on May 31 without deciding how to deal with the issue.


Kupferschmid, meanwhile, continues to provide constant care for her husband, Dennis. He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which has robbed him of the ability to move anything except his eyelids. He breathes with a ventilator.


"I’m in my home 24/7, 365 (days a year), with no days off," said Kupferschmid of East Peoria. "I would not want to be anywhere else, but it is still difficult as a caregiver and a spouse."


Because Kathi Kupferschmid is Dennis’ spouse, and not an outside caregiver, she is ineligible for Medicaid payments. If she did get paid, she says, "It would be a huge financial burden off of us."


As originally introduced early this year, Senate Bill 2112 would have let full-time spousal caregivers get Medicaid payments.


Two Peoria-area women, Kupferschmid and Stefanie Eklund of Knoxville, inspired the legislation. Both are 24-hour caregivers for their disabled husbands. Eklund, who couldn’t be reached for comment this week, was a paid caregiver for Bryan Eklund before they married. The marriage meant she lost about $1,800 in monthly Medicaid payments.


In April, the Illinois Senate voted 58-0 for a more modest version of SB2112. The slimmed-down plan called for creating a "spousal caregiver" demonstration project to generate information about how much it would cost the state to let full-time spousal caregivers get Medicaid payments.


The measure never advanced in the House, where questions lingered about whether the cost would be excessive.


"We thought we had contained that (concern) by doing this as a pilot project," said Sen. David Koehler, a Peoria Democrat who was the bill’s lead Senate sponsor.


"We tried to narrow the scope of who would be able to apply for this," he said, adding that it was never his intention to "open the floodgates" and enable a large number of people to seek Medicaid payments for caregivers.


Rep. Donald Moffitt, a Gilson Republican and the bill’s lead House sponsor, thinks the legislation will have to undergo further tweaking.


"We’re going to have to continue to tighten it up and define it to relieve those concerns that any spouse could be paid for giving care," Moffitt said.


For example, he said, the legislation could specify that if a qualified caregiver had a long-standing, business relationship with a disabled person, and the two later married, then the caregiver would continue to receive Medicaid payments.


"That’s the kind of specifics I think we’re going to have to put in there," Moffitt said. "I think if we do that, we’ll have a shot at passing it."


Koehler and Moffitt said they intend to keep pushing for the bill’s passage, but that likely won’t happen in 2008.


"Sometimes changes like this take several attempts," Koehler said. "The thing that we need to make sure people understand is we will be persistent on this. This is the right issue, the right thing to do."


Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.