Marsh Lutwin blames Congress for the loss of some of her Medicare home health-care benefits.
The 47-year-old from Rockaway, N.J., is one of about 5 million disabled Americans who qualify for Medicare benefits before retirement age. Crippled by multiple sclerosis, she can't leave her bed without help, and until recently, a home health aide visited every morning and evening.But since budget-balancing lawmakers last year voted to put new limits on Medicare payments for home care, Lutwin gets only the morning assistance, leaving her in the evenings to rely on her roommate, who also has MS.
"He's gone to help me and he's fallen a couple of times and I couldn't help him," said Lutwin. "It's really scary."
The pair have resorted to calling the police when they need help, which Lutwin calls "embarrassing" but better than being institutionalized. That, she said, "would break my spirit."
Senators agreed Tuesday they may be partially to blame for Lutwin's plight and the loss of home care by other disabled people and senior citizens.
"I think we made a serious mistake," said Sen. John Breaux, D-La., at a hearing called by the Senate Special Committee on Aging to reconsider changes to Medicare's home health benefit that were part of last year's balanced budget deal.
The panel chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noted that many lawmakers are reluctant to revisit controversial Medicare issues this year, but he said home care is "not a luxury for our seniors."