Current state law recognizes two kinds of home-care aides and requires companies providing them to be licensed and accredited: "Certified home health aides" can provide services "for the purpose of maintaining or restoring an individual's physical or mental health." "Personal care" aides can perform services involving bathing, dressing, grooming etc.

But in recent years, firms that provide "companion" services have proliferated. And these firms are not subject to any kind of licensing or accreditation.

Theoretically, "companion services" do not include any direct physical contact with the individual. But Ken Wessel, president of the Home Care Council of N.J., which represents nonprofit home-care providers, says that some so-called companions are actually performing medical services that even "certified home health aides" are not allowed to provide.

A bill that seems like a no-brainer to us would require companion-care providers to be subject to state licensing and accreditation, just as providers of home health aides and personal-care aides are.

Opposition to the measure (S2100/A3133), which was recently approved by the state Senate and is pending in the Assembly, is familiar. Opponents says it will increase costs for providers of companion care and, in turn, make such care more expensive for the elderly.

But how much more expensive is in dispute. The measure also requires companion-care providers to undergo annual audits, and opponents say that the cost of accreditation and the audits could range from $25,000 to $50,000 a year. Proponents dispute those numbers, with one accreditation agency telling NJSpotlight that it charges between $1,792 and $4,704 for annual accreditation. The state license required under the bill would cost $500 a year.

The critics' numbers sound inflated - and, really, this is not an issue that should turn on the costs involved.

Home-care aides are usually complete strangers who come into your home and share some of the most intimate details of your life. Any company providing them - no matter what level of service they are providing - should be subject to state oversight.

We don't quite understand why the bill requires annual audits, and we'd have no problem seeing that provision dropped, which would significantly reduce the costs involved. But this is a measure that clearly deserves passage.