Shirley Leow, a retired biomedical researcher, is now a health-care advocate in the state Capitol. Photo by Jonathan Castner.

By Danica Lucker

Shirley Leow’s experience as a former pharmaceutical researcher and biotech executive comes in handy when she advocates before the state General Assembly for affordable health care and keeping rural hospitals alive.

“I earned a decent living, which provided for my retirement, but that’s not the case for many people,” Leow said. “I have many female friends, for example, who are widows and are struggling. That’s why I got involved with AARP.”

Leow, 65, of Lakewood, leads AARP Colorado’s legislative advocates. She will be among the volunteers and staff discussing the 2017 legislative session at three AARP forums this month: Sept. 15, in Fruita; Sept. 26, in Evans; and Sept. 27, in Sterling. All the meetings are free.

Go to states.aarp.org/aarpco-2017-legislative-wrap for times and details.

“Our public outreach will be really important,” Leow said. “We need to hold our legislators accountable.”

The impact of state and federal budgets on health care and affordability is very much on voters’ minds, said Kelli Fritts, advocacy director for AARP Colorado.

State funding for rural hospitals was saved through last-minute decisions on the Sustainability of Rural Colorado Act, passed just before the legislative session ended in May. Depending on federal changes to Medicaid, those hospitals may still be at risk.

“A lot of our state is outside the Denver area. Anyone living in an underserved or rural community will be affected,” Fritts said.

“Residents in these areas could get hit with a double whammy,” she added. “At-risk rural hospitals not only provide essential health care but are also often the largest employers in the region.”

Help for rural areas
The legislation effectively block­ed a threatened cut of $264 million in funding for hospitals. The last-minute law also doubles Medicaid copayment fees for drugs and outpatient and emergency services.

In addition, the act includes $30 million for rural schools and $160 million for state highways.

Another issue that may be discussed at this month’s forums is maintaining the Senior Property Tax Homestead Exemption. It allows qualifying residents 65 and older and disabled veterans a reduction on their tax on a primary residence by exempting 50 percent of the first $200,000 in market value.

The legislature may reexamine the exemption in 2018.

Lawmakers also addressed gaps in legal guardianships, creating a pilot program supported by AARP. The program will provide legal guardianship services to indigent and incapacitated adults who have no responsible family members or friends to serve as a guardian.

Fritts said the Colorado Fiscal Institute, a Denver-based research group that focuses on fiscal and economic accountability in Colorado, will join the AARP public forums this year to help answer questions about legislation, the state budget and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR).

AARP members in Colorado are “a group that gets very involved and motivated,” said Tim Hoover, communications director for the institute.

Colorado is one of the fastest growing states, with a low unemployment rate, but is having trouble investing in its programs. These include the state’s rural hospitals and keeping college tuitions affordable, Hoover added.

Go to coloradocapitolwatch.com/bill-analysis/4365/2017/0 for AARP analyses of legislation.

Danica Lucker is a writer living in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

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