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AARP Alaska Legislative Update, March 24, 2015

Bills We’re Watching

  • HB 5 Conservator of Protected Persons: Passed (H); awaiting hearing in (S) JUD
  • HB 8 Powers of Attorney:  Passed (H); referred to (S) HSS
  • SB 1 Regulation of Smoking: Passed (S) HSS. Referred to (S) SA
  • SB 12 Paid Sick Leave: Awaiting hearing in (S) L&C
  • SB 72 Designated Caregivers for Patients: Introduced 3/11. Referred to (S) HSS

 

Issues We’re Watching

  • Budget: Cuts to Senior Benefit Program: Finance Committees (S and H)
  • Budget: Cuts to Adult Day Programs: Finance Committees (S)
  • Medicaid reform: SB 74; Introduced 3/13. Referred to (S) HSS. Heard 3/23, work session
  • Medicaid Expansion: HB 148 & SB 78, House Rules at Request of the Governor. Introduced 3/18. Hearings in (H) HSS on 3/24, 3/26, and 3/28 at 3 pm at Capitol 106.

 

Bills in Detail

  • House Bill 5 Conservator of Protected PersonsSponsor(s) REPRESENTATIVES HAWKER, Hughes. The bill would expand the pool of persons eligible to be appointed by the court to serve as a “conservator” of an incapacitated person’s finances to include persons related by marriage or adoption (currently just blood relations are eligible). AARP supports this bill. Current status: No change from last week. After passing the House on 2/25, this bill awaits a hearing in Senate Judiciary.
  • House Bill 8 Powers of AttorneySponsor(s) REPRESENTATIVES HUGHES, Gruenberg. This bill updates Alaska’s current Power of Attorney Law with new protections against exploitation and conforms the law more closely to those of other states allowing for easier portability. Power of Attorney is an important tool to protect assets of a person who becomes incapacitated by providing a means to name someone the person trusts to manage their financial affairs. AARP supports this bill. Current status: No change from last week; awaits hearing in Senate Judiciary committee.
  • Senate Bill 1 Regulation of SmokingSponsor(s) SENATORS MICCICHE, McGuire, Costello, Bishop, Stevens, Meyer, Olson, Ellis, Gardner, Hoffman. This bill expands statewide what is already common practice in many cities and villages around Alaska by making it illegal to smoke indoors at a place of employment or in public spaces. It does not prohibit smoking, but protects all persons from second hand smoke -- a proven health hazard. AARP supports this bill. Current status: No change from last week. Bill passed out of (S) HSS on 3/11. Awaits hearing in (S) State Affairs.
  • Senate Bill 12 Paid Sick LeaveSponsor(s) SENATORS WIELECHOWSKI, Ellis. This bill requires businesses with more than 15 employees to provide a modest accrual of paid leave hours for illness of the employee or to assist members of their immediate family. In many cases, workers are forced to choose between their paycheck and their health. Providing paid sick leave actually saves businesses money by decreasing employee turn-over and increasing productivity. AARP supports this bill. Current status: No change from last week. This bill was referred to the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee.
  • Senate Bill 72 Designated Caregivers for PatientsSponsor SENATOR GIESSEL. This bill strengthens the role of an unpaid or family caregiver of a hospital patient who will need care after discharge. The bill allows patients to name a caregiver, for the caregiver’s contact information to be recorded in the patient record, and prior to discharge for the hospital to provide live or recorded demonstration of the tasks the caregiver will have to perform after the patient is discharged. Current status: No change from last week. This bill is referred to (S) HSS committee.

 

Issues in Detail

  • Cuts to Senior Benefits Program Governor Bill Walker proposes reducing the cost of the Senior Benefit Program which supplements income of the lowest earning seniors in Alaska. The proposal would reduce by 20% the two top tiers of benefits, affecting approximately 11,000 low-income seniors. While AARP Alaska recognizes the importance of reducing state spending, we don’t support doing so on the backs of those least able to afford it. AARP is vigorously opposing this cut to the Senior Benefit Program. Current status: Cuts remain in House passed budget. Now being considered by Senate Finance Committee.
  • Family caregiver support and educationHouse Finance committee has proposed a $500,000 cut to the state’s 13 adult day programs, which is almost a third of their state funding. This program not only provides daytime care and support for persons with dementia or other physical disabilities, it also provides respite for families caring for a family member and maintains the opportunity to maintain their full-time employment, keep their health insurance, and build retirement. AARP opposes cuts to this important program. Current status: Adult day program funding restored to House passed budget! Now being considered in (S) Finance.
  • Medicaid ExpansionExpansion of Medicaid would be financed entirely by Federal funds the first year, gradually becoming a 10% state share by 2020. Medicaid would become available as healthcare coverage to all persons who earn 133% of the Federal Poverty Level or less. Expanded Medicaid would provide access to healthcare for an estimated 40,000 Alaskans who currently are without coverage. AARP supports this important change to Medicaid rules, which also has the potential to actually reduce overall state costs through reform and reorganization. Current status: House removed all Medicaid expansion items from its passed budget. On 3/13, Sen. Kelly introduced a bill (SB74) in the Senate that only calls for Medicaid reform. SB74 referred to (S) HSS. Governor Walker introduced his own expansion bill, HB 148. Being heard in (H) HSS.

 

"Doc Fix": At the national level, AARP is active in the congressional search for the “doc fix,” which would modify the formula for how doctors are paid under Medicare. AARP opposes a fix that would reduce Medicare benefits or increase costs to beneficiaries.

Reauthorization of the OAA: AARP is also strongly advocating for the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA), which was due for renewal in 2011. The OAA is the funding source for many senior programs, like senior centers, nutrition and transportation programs, and the Long Term Care Ombudsman. Without reauthorization, funding is tied to 2011 levels and 2011 priorities. Clearly things have changed in the past four years.

Closing the Loophole: AARP is also anticipating a new Department of Labor rule which would close a loophole that affects retirement planning. The new rule would require investment brokers to adhere to the same fiduciary standard as financial advisors, which requires actions to be in the best financial interest of a client, rather than on a less desirable client product which yields a higher commission to the broker. AARP supports closing the loophole.

Whether its Social Security or Medicare at the national level, or healthcare and housing at the state level, we are working on behalf of our 86,000 members in Alaska. This advocacy update will help keep you informed. Please share with your family and friends!

We invite you to give us your feedback. We also welcome volunteers who want to get involved as advocates to help make a difference for Alaska’s 50+ population. Contact Ken Helander, Advocacy Director, AARP Alaska State Office at 907-762-3314; toll free at 866-227-7447 or khelander@aarp.org .

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