Lawsuit Challenges Loss of Fee Deductions for Elderly

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County Public Guardian Gordon Treharne filed suit against the state Wednesday, challenging new Medi-Cal regulations which, he said, threaten the county's ability to care for elderly citizens who have no one else to protect them.

Filed on behalf of an estimated 300 elderly nursing home residents, the Los Angeles Superior Court suit challenges the state Department of Health Services' recent decision not to allow elderly conservatees to deduct fees paid for the public guardian's services from the amount they owe for their nursing home care.

The public guardian acts as a conservator for senior citizens who are without family or sufficient financial resources to care for themselves, arranging for nursing home services, Medi-Cal benefits, medical evaluations and regular visits.

Until recently, the county recovered part of its costs for serving those clients from the clients' own resources, deducting a fee from monthly Social Security checks or other income.

Under Medi-Cal regulations, nursing home patients must turn over most of their income to help pay nursing home bills, but are permitted to keep $35 a month for personal expenses and--until the new regulations were adopted--$50 a month to pay the public guardian's fee.

In the suit, Treharne said the county now recovers only about $200,000 a year in fees, covering only a small part of its estimated $2 million in costs for providing the services. Without the fees, services may have to be cut back, he said.

"The clients served by the program are, typically, frail, vulnerable elderly who are unable to make decisions regarding their living arrangements, health or financial matters," he told the court. "The loss of this revenue would force reductions in services in the very program that is most needed by these recipients."

Superior Court Judge Warren Deering will hold a hearing on the request Tuesday.

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