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McGovern vows to fight for elder care program

GREENFIELD — In impassioned speech to dozens gathered downtown Congressman Jim McGovern said he would “fight like hell” for “SHINE” back in Washington, D.C., after hearing a hour of testimonials to the importance of the elder care program that helps link seniors up with health insurance, and is slated to be cut by Congress this coming year.

“I will do everything I can to be wind at your back to make sure Congress doesn’t screw this up, too,” McGovern said.

Residents, advocates and workers in the senior health care system regionally came forward to speak at an open forum at Greenfield Community College’s downtown Main Street location that McGovern attended Friday afternoon.

The worries that many people expressed was twofold: the SHINE program that runs through LifePath will cease to exist if the government, as planned, cuts its funding; and then people vocalized concern that their words would not be going to the right people in Washington to save the program.

“Don’t think you’re preaching to the choir,” McGovern said. “What you’re giving me is ammunition. The way we’re going to change things is by real-life stories.”

People shared stories like one where about a man caring for his wife in her final years to another about living in senior housing, circling back to the idea that SHINE had helped them in their senior years.

SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone) is, according to the state’s website, “a state health insurance assistance program that provides to Massachusetts residents of any age who have Medicare free health insurance information, counseling and assistance to Massachusetts residents with Medicare and their caregivers.”

The program trains people, often times seniors, to know how to operate health care for elders so that they can assist other seniors on what to do when they reach qualifying age of 65 or in need of other guidance along elder years. Although those who are trained do not get paid a salary, the cost of the program is mainly in pay for supervisors and the training programs.

“I think we have a fighting chance to get it back in,” the federal budget, McGovern said, after addressing the group. “Quite frankly, it makes absolutely no sense to cut this program … even from a dollar sense, it saves a lot of money.”

The Democrat from Worcester advocated for what he said is a program that invests in keeping elders healthy instead of having to pay the money in the backend, when people do get sick.

Conversation at the event also moved toward a general discussion of health care.

One younger person, Betsy Shapiro, spoke about issues with rising costs in the health care system, pointing to the price of an insulin pump for her Type 1 diabetes.

McGovern would later address her frustrations, with not only conversations of “repeal and replace” for the Affordable Care Act, which has dictated the recent national conversations over health care, but also with the existing system.

“Right now, the odds are stacked against us,” McGovern said about health care in Congress. “We weren’t suppose to prevail in that vote,” to stop the “repeal and replace” process of ObamaCare.

“The resistance needs to keep up,” McGovern said. “This is not just about Donald Trump. I don’t know how long he’s going to last, and he’s going to go at some point. But we need to fix this system.”

McGovern advocated for a single-payer system, or what some call “Medicaid for all.”

“I think we’re fortunate to have someone who understands the system is broken and that single-payer is the solution,” eldercare advocate and lobbyist Al Norman said after the event, where he also pushed for the health care reform.

McGovern reiterated he hopes to bring these stories to his colleagues back in Washington, to push for funding for SHINE and better funding for Medicaid. And with football season slowly on the horizon, McGovern chose to draw an analogy from the gridiron to close in that although he wishes things will move quickly, constituents have to be patient with the process.

“This is a time to set out this positive agenda and to fight for what we want and what we want this country to look like. We may not get their immediately,” McGovern said. “We may not get the touchdown immediately. We may get to the 50-yard line and then need to move the ball forward.”

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264

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