By David Lewellen
Carol Greene knows what AARP’s legislative agenda means to her and her family. The Edgerton resident closely monitors her 103-year-old mother, Theresa Martell, driving 30 miles each way once a week to check on bills and medication—for which Wisconsin’s SeniorCare program is a lifeline.
“My mother really, really likes SeniorCare,” said Greene, 71. The program, unique to Wisconsin, offers low-income older residents a better deal on prescription drugs than Medicare Part D.
Greene has attended many state budget hearings wearing her red AARP T-shirt to support the organization’s efforts to enact and preserve legislation that benefits Wisconsin’s older adults.
A new session of the Legislature begins this month. During debates over a new biennial budget, AARP will advocate for measures that benefit older Wisconsinites—existing programs such as SeniorCare and proposals such as establishing a state-facilitated retirement savings plan.
“We just want everything left the way it is,” Greene said of SeniorCare. “We don’t want anything privatized. The smallest change can be very disruptive to a person you’re taking care of.”
Judith Joslin-Crary, 75, of Beloit, calls SeniorCare the best option for covering medications for her and her husband, who are on a fixed income. “It really pays to do your research,” she said. She has testified more than once before the Joint Finance Committee on behalf of SeniorCare.
Every budget cycle, when hearings are held around the state, AARP designates one person to testify about the positive impact of important programs, while dozens more volunteers wearing red T-shirts listen in support. The sight “lets the Joint Finance Committee know that we could repeat the testimony over and over again,” said Helen Marks Dicks, AARP Wisconsin state advocacy director.
AARP Wisconsin’s top priority for advocacy will be access to health care. The organization will push for funding to expand the Family Care program, which provides in-home long-term care, to the seven counties that do not yet have it.
One continuing battle is over whether Wisconsin will expand the federal-state Medicaid program to provide health insurance for more older adults on limited incomes. Both SeniorCare and Family Care fall under the Medicaid umbrella, but Wisconsin did not accept the additional funds offered in 2014 as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Another priority is to pass the CARE Act, requiring hospitals to give detailed follow-up instructions to a designated caregiver when a patient is discharged. AARP is also seeking a tax credit to reimburse caregivers for money spent on caring for a relative.
In addition, the association will renew its efforts to institute a state-facilitated “work and save” plan, in which workers could save for retirement through a payroll deduction and have the money invested in a manner similar to the state pension plan.
Once established, the program would cost the state very little but would help ensure a more comfortable retirement for workers, since defined-benefit pension plans are becoming rare, and Social Security was never meant to be enough by itself.
During the last session, Dicks said, the measure was given a committee hearing, and in 2017 “we hope to get as far as a vote.”
In AARP’s lobbying efforts, “the participation of members really does influence the budget,” Dicks said. “We will be visible and active and opinionated.”
Keep track of legislative issues at aarp.org/wi.
David Lewellen is a writer living in Glendale, Wis.