The eighty-third session of the Texas Legislature kicks off tomorrow morning. What will we be working on? Here are the details of what we expect to focus on this session.
Supporting Cost-Effective Long-Term Care:
The state can do more to help Texas seniors and their families access cost-effective community-based long-term care. In a recently released report, “Raising Expectations – A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers,” Texas ranked a poor thirty-eighth on the percent of nursing home residents with low-care needs. This suggests that Texas is not doing as well as other states in screening and diverting the right folks to much less costly community-based care.
That 38th ranking means that about 16% of Texas nursing home residents were rated as having low care needs. By comparison, the top performing state had about 1% of their nursing home residents in the low care needs category and the top five states averaged about 5%.
Helping seniors get care at home is a better deal for the state. Community-based care costs a third to a half of the cost of nursing home care.
Providing care at home also helps seniors stay independent and in the community for as long as possible. In fact, 88 percent of seniors age 65 and over want to stay in their own home.
Setting a Higher Bar for Nursing Home Quality:
Texas nursing homes rank poorly when it comes to providing quality care. According to the recently released score card I just mentioned, nursing home “quality of care” problems include a relatively high percent of high-risk residents with bedsores and long-term stay residents admitted to the hospital.
A high rate of patients with bedsores indicates poor nursing care. A high hospitalization rate for nursing home long stay residents may indicate that medical conditions aren’t being diagnosed and treated soon enough. Frequent hospitalizations are very hard on residents--and unnecessarily expensive for Medicaid and Medicare.
Protecting Public Pensions:
AARP believes that all workers need access to a retirement plan that supplements Social Security’s foundation. Retirement plans are a main source of retirement income for Texans who do not participate in Social Security, including four out of five teachers. Older households without pension income are roughly nine times more likely to be in poverty than those with pensions.
More than one million Texans are members of the state’s two large public pensions, the Teacher’s Retirement System of Texas (TRS) and the Employee’s Retirement System of Texas (ERS). These pension funds are professionally managed and provide a critical source of reliable income for many Texans. Paying for TRS and ERS is a shared responsibility: Employees must be members of the system, and both employees and the state contribute a percentage of pay throughout each individual’s working career. TRS and ERS pool contributions into a trust fund, which is invested to earn revenue that pays most of the cost of retirement benefits.
Pension funds are generally considered adequately funded if they have at least an 80% funded ratio, the ratio of assets to liabilities. The current ratio for TRS and ERS is 83%. Both funds can pay currently projected benefits until 2075.
Keeping Smart Meter Data Private:
Smart electricity meters constantly monitor and transmit information--significantly more than conventional electricity meters. The Public Utility Commission is making it easier for marketers to gain access to this data, which can indicate whether anyone is home and awake. The agency says it can’t protect your information once the marketers get access to it.
Reforming Small Dollar Loans:
In 2011, the Legislature took the first steps towards reforming predatory payday and auto title lending practices by passing two bills, one establishing licensing for lenders and the second creating new disclosures for borrowers. However, legislators failed to pass a third and important measure addressing the cycle of debt these loans create. These lenders drain precious resources from our economy daily. A recent survey found that 20% of payday loan borrowers in Texas were age 50+.
Photo courtesy David Bruce.