Protecting Vermont's senior citizens
Last week I presented on the floor of the Chamber, in behalf of the Vermont House Human Services Committee, H. 112 "An act relating to access to financial records in adult protective services investigations." The HHS Committee lives by four guiding principles. One of them is "ensuring that vulnerable Vermonters are safe and protected." H.112's focus is on protecting vulnerable elder adults.It provides the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, known as DAIL, with a new tool to assist with their fraud investigations. Currently, when DAIL is investigating suspected fraud/abuse against a vulnerable adult, (and 1 in 10 persons sixty years of age or older are have been abused, neglected, or financially exploited in the past year). DAIL currently cannot obtain access to financial records. This is because the financial industry must follow state and federal privacy regulations.
Our Committee was careful to protect the individual/customer and to ensure privacy regulations were maintained so that there would not be penalties/sanctions on the bank or credit union, which holds the records. (Financial fraud includes unauthorized use of debit and/or credit cards, withdrawing of funds from accounts, or paying unrelated bills using the account holder's funds.) The House Human Services Committee through H. 112 protects privacy but not at the expense of watching seniors get defrauded and abused — currently there are 5 million elder victims in the United States annually who fall into that category.
H.112 set up a process by which DAIL is be able to work with financial institutions to access records when investigating potential fraud. It also creates an exception in the banking statutes that allows banks and credit unions to share financial records without violating state and federal privacy regulations. The Vermont Bankers Association strongly supported our bill because without it, DAIL would continue to struggle with gaining appropriate access to financial records of vulnerable adults. We heard testimony of how Elder abuse kills. Many people do not realize that victims of any type of elder abuse are three times more likely to die than their non-abused age cohorts. Elder Abuse is far more deadly than many of the diseases into which we pour many millions of dollars for research and treatment. Elder abuse is also expensive. Here are some facts:
Victims and their families lose assets that took the older persons a lifetime of hard work to build. These losses directly affect their health and well-being, resulting in invisible, increased costs to Medicare.
People and Financial institutions lose billions in assets, as the money stolen is usually snorted, smoked, drunk or gambled away. Says, Kathleen Quinn of the National Adult Protective Services Association before a senate Special Committee on Aging in February 2015.
The taxpayer loses as well; one study found that 9% of financial abuse victims had to go on Medicaid as a direct result of having their own assets stolen.
Since elder abuse victims are 4 times more likely to enter nursing homes than other seniors, this also translates into huge but hidden costs to Medicaid.
Elder abuse is complex: many if not most victims are abused in multiple ways, and in some cases by multiple abusers. Financial exploitation is also closely associated with physical and emotional abuse (victims are bullied and beaten so the abuser can get access to their assets) and neglect, which is often underestimated, but undoubtedly causes countless premature, enormously painful, and excruciatingly drawn-out deaths. Abusers don't want to pay for the victim's expensive personal care, medical care and drugs, or even nutrition and hydration, because they view the victim's money as their own. Shockingly, the vast majority (90%) of reported elder abuse is committed by the older victim's own family: adult children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and sometimes siblings. Much of the rest is perpetrated by trusted friends, neighbors, caregivers, attorneys and even clergy.
Adult Protective Service's (APS ) is the state agency responsible for protecting vulnerable adults from financial abuse. APS investigates allegations of financial abuse.
APS often needs access to the victims' bank or credit union records and information to determine if financial abuse has occurred. Timely access to these records and information can help APS stop the abuse and protect the vulnerable adult from further abuse. H. 112 streamlines this process. Without added cost to the State of Vermont H. 112 provides a tool to help to help find the alleged thief – saving the elder and the state money.
H.112 gives APS the ability to access financial records and information when victims lack capacity to consent and the victims do not have guardians or agents who can consent on their behalf or when the guardian or agent is the alleged abuser. Without H.112 and the much needed exception that it creates, APS' hands are tied when investigating the financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. H. 112 was voted out of committee 10- 0-1 and passed through the House by what appeared to be a unanimous voice vote of approval. It's a good act that will help many of our most vulnerable Vermonters. I was proud to be the reporter of the bill as it is important piece of legislation. It was one of three bills that we passed out of Committee last week. The others include continuing Meal on Wheels funding ( for which I have advocated ). It will be brought to the floor of the Chamber in the near future.
Steven Berry is a state representative to the Legislature from the district which includes Manchester, Arlington, Sunderland and Sandgate.
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