AARP Texas, the leading organization for Texans age 50+, has announced priority issues that it seeks to advance during the 2021 legislative session.
AARP Texas Director Tina Tran said the priorities include achievable bipartisan actions needed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to prepare for Texas’ future.
“There’s never been a more important time for the Legislature to step up for older Texans,” said AARP Texas Director Tina Tran. “In the past year, the threats of death, disease and social isolation have terrorized our state’s senior population. The Legislature must bring compassion and leadership forward by devoting this session to the needs of the state’s age-50-plus population and their families.”
The AARP Texas session priorities entail requests related to the health and quality of care of residents in long-term care facilities – a population that has been hard hit by the coronavirus – along with sensible measures to increase health care access, and other practical steps that state lawmakers can take to reduce food insecurity and protect vulnerable seniors.
The following is a summary of AARP Texas’ priorities for the session:
* Establish an Interagency Coordinating Council on Aging
AARP urges the Legislature to establish a statewide interagency aging coordinating council to ensure a strategic statewide approach to the rapidly growing older population, including developing a collaborative five-year strategic plan. This council should be modeled after the successful Statewide Behavioral Health Coordinating Council.
* Improve Access to Nursing Home Alternatives in the Star+Plus Program
The COVID-19 pandemic devastated nursing homes, causing Texans to rethink long-term care for loved ones. The state pays Star+Plus health plans more than twice as much when a client is placed in a nursing home than for setting up care at home. It is time to revamp the incentives in Star+Plus to encourage better use of cost-effective community care and make nursing home placement the last choice.
* Improve Infection Control and Resident Safety in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities
Infection control has been the most cited violation in Texas nursing homes for years. Nearly every nursing home in the state has had a case of COVID-19 and more than 8,000 nursing facility residents have died. Infection control must be addressed. Facilities must have appropriate staffing, ongoing testing, sufficient PPE.
* Enhance Health Care Access by Removing Outdated Nurse Practitioner Licensing Barriers
Advanced Practice Nurses (APRNs) provide high-quality health care and, as a result, they comprise almost half of the state’s primary care workforce and fill numerous other roles. Outdated licensing requirements prevent these highly trained medical professionals from providing care to the fullest potential of their training, making our health care system more costly. Texas should join 31 other states in ending lifelong and expensive delegation requirements.
* Address Health Care Costs and Loopholes for Surprise Bills
The pandemic has exposed unscrupulous billing practices and price-gouging for testing and treatment. Prescription drug costs continue to strain the pocketbooks of Texas patients struggling to afford lifesaving medications like insulin. Patients are also being hit with surprise medical bills from ambulance services and health coverage with inadequate benefits.
* Increase High-Speed Internet Access by Establishing a Statewide Broadband Office and Plan
The Governor’s Broadband Development Council recommended establishing both a statewide broadband office and plan. Approximately 90 percent of Texans without high-speed broadband Internet are in rural areas. For older Texans, broadband is critical to accessing telehealth, getting information and preventing isolation.
* Make it Easier for Texans to Save at Work
The economic slowdown amid the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of savings to depend on. Workers are 15 times more likely to save if they can do so through payroll deduction. Yet 57 percent of private sector workers in Texas do not have access to a retirement savings plan in the workplace. The Legislature should remove barriers preventing small businesses from offering workplace retirement savings plans.
* Help Seniors Remain Food Secure
Many older Texans are at risk of going hungry, but they are often overlooked in emergency food efforts. During the pandemic, food insecurity among seniors has spiked significantly. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission should exercise waiver options to make it easier for older Texans—as well as Texans with disabilities and no earned income—to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
* Fully Fund the Guardianship Abuse, and Exploitation Deterrence Program
Budget cuts have prevented the Office of Court Administration from hiring specialized staff as directed by lawmakers in 2019. The Legislature should restore critical funds so courts can protect our most vulnerable Texans.