AARP New York members, activists, and volunteers joined together this year to make significant progress and win important victories on critical issues for older New Yorkers, including homeowners, consumers, family caregivers, and grandparents and other relatives raising children.
Grassroots efforts and advocacy by AARP New York members, activists, and volunteers helped extend legal protections for homeowners facing foreclosure and moved us closer to providing utility consumers the independent voice they need to fight unfair rate hikes. Our team effort helped spur state policymakers to increase funding for programs that support family caregivers and kincare providers while creating key protections for health care consumers.
Here’s a review of the progress and wins from this year’s New York State legislative session for:
- The 2014-15 State Budget increased funding for non-Medicaid, in-home services for the elderly by $5 million. These critical services help family caregivers continue caring for frail elderly at home and in many cases spare taxpayers a much larger expense through the Medicaid program when unsupported caregivers burn out and have no choice but to place their loved one in a nursing home. An additional $1 million will go toward cost-of-living wage increases for employees of caregiver service programs.
- AARP enlisted two key state lawmakers to introduce legislation that would help ensure family caregivers are an essential part of their loved one’s health care team: The Caregiver Advise, Record, and Enable (CARE) Act, introduced by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan and Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon of Nassau County (S.7676 - Hannon/A.8716 - Rosenthal).The bill allows hospital patients to designate caregivers who would be guaranteed live pre-discharge demonstrations on how to administer medications, wound care, or other after-care tasks to help them care for their loved ones at home. An AARP New York-sponsored forum on the CARE Act in Binghamton attracted numerous attendees and media, prompting local Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo to sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill.
- AARP New York has continued to raise awareness among lawmakers and policy-makers of the need for utility consumer protection in a state whose average residential electric rates have consistently ranked among the highest in the continental United States. The State Assembly for the second year in a row passed an AARP-backed bill to establish a utility consumer advocate office in New York (A.6239-B - Dinowitz/S.4550-B - Savino).Although the State Senate did not take up the legislation, the bill picked up the key support of the Independent Democratic Conference, which is expected to continue as part of a coalition controlling the Senate. AARP New York also joined with the Public Utility Law Project (PULP), Consumers Union and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) to ask for support from lawmakers and the governor’s staff.AARP volunteers from across New York advocated at the State Capitol and, as a result of meetings with volunteers and members across the state, made more than 3,000 calls and sent over 5,000 faxes and emails to elected officials.
- With AARP’s support, state lawmakers agreed to phase out the utility tax known as “18-a” over three years, rather than the previously scheduled four years. That’s expected to save residential utility consumers $55 per year.
- AARP worked successfully to defeat a provision in the proposed State Budget to allow utility regulators to disregard laws governing rates for telephone service, price discrimination, and network sales, mergers, and transfers of control in the interest of “streamlining.”AARP argued the proposal would abolish effective oversight and grant power to regulators to waive longstanding requirements for basic telephone service, including uniform pricing, non-discrimination, rate filing, notice of changes, price transparency, rate review, and rate modification.
- With the help of more than 1,000 Consolidated Edison utility customers who responded to an AARP call to action, AARP NY helped moderate a major rate increase the downstate utility had sought from regulators. In letters to New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC), the customers asked that the increase be rejected.Although the PSC did grant Con Ed an increase, the final deal was better for ratepayers than the one the utility proposed. It included protections for consumers in the form of a credit on electric charges to help offset the cost of future rate increases.
- In response to an AARP request, the PSC investigated the practices of Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) and issued an order that makes it easier for residential energy customers to compare prices, strengthens measures to curtail inappropriate energy marketing activities such as door-to-door and telephone marketing, and addresses concerns about the possible lack of benefits received by low-income consumers.AARP was concerned that some ESCOs were misleading consumers through the use of unscrupulous door-to-door and telephone sales, as well as unfulfilled promises of utility bill reductions over long periods of time. These marketing practices often target low-income consumers and communities of color.
- Governor Cuomo signed into law an AARP-backed bill that extends through 2020 a 2009 bill giving homeowners a fair shot to avoid foreclosure (S.7119 - Klein/A.9354 - Weinstein). The law requires lenders to provide 90-day foreclosure notices and participate in mandatory settlement conferences to help develop a mortgage payment plan the homeowner can afford.
Health Care Consumers
- The state’s low-cost prescription drug subsidy program for seniors was expanded as part of the State Budget to an estimated 25,000 more middle-income New Yorkers. Individuals 65 and older with annual income up to $75,000 and married couples with annual income of up to $100,000 now qualify for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program to supplement their out-of-pocket Medicare Part D drug plan costs – up from the previous respective limits of $35,000 and $50,000. Social Security income is excluded from the income calculations.
- AARP New York joined other health care advocacy groups and State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Ben Lawsky in news conferences to promote reforms that will curtail “surprise” and potentially devastating bills to health care patients from out-of-network providers.
The reforms, adopted as part of the State Budget, increase health plan disclosure mandates, ensure the patient is held harmless, and remove patients from billing disputes arising from services provided outside of their insurance network that they did not choose or know they would be receiving, particularly in emergency situations.
Health care providers and insurers now must resolve disputes without involving patients recovering from medical procedures. Network adequacy requirements were strengthened so fewer patients will need to see providers outside of their plan’s network. Consumers will also be able to seek out-of-network services if their health plan’s network does not have a qualified specialist that meets their specific medical needs.
- Blind and visually impaired patients will receive a large-print version or audio recording of hospital discharge plans or preadmission information upon request under an AARP-backed bill Governor Cuomo signed into law (S.328-A – Avella/A.746-A – Rosenthal).
- AARP supported safe patient handling measures in health care facilities across the state through updated staff training and new technologies to decrease the number of injuries for health care workers and patients.
- Drug shortages in medicines used for chemotherapy and to treat infections and other chronic ailments have, in some instances, forced providers to buy generic products from secondary suppliers at a significantly higher cost. An AARP-backed bill that passed the Assembly adds medicine to the list of goods and services subject to anti-price gouging laws (S.2138-B – Lanza/A.3751-B – Crespo).
- The way prescription drug prices are set would have more public scrutiny under an AARP-supported bill that passed the Assembly (A.5352 – Gottfried). The bill would establish disclosure and reporting requirements for Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), who serve as the middleman between drug manufacturers, retail pharmacies and health plans, and who have the unique power to influence the market for price, market share, and total benefit costs.PBMs’ negotiations are often done in secret, and the transparency required under the bill would help ensure PBMs are acting in the best interest of the health plan and its beneficiaries.
- New York City and Long Island would be required to make provisions for providing home care and hospice services during emergencies such as Superstorm Sandy under a bill (S.4719-B -Lanza/A.6530-B - Cusick) that passed both houses and is expected to go to the Governor. The bill requires cities and counties with populations of a million or more to establish a comprehensive emergency management plan that includes such provisions. Health care professionals had a hard time reaching patients in the aftermath of Sandy.
- All adult care facilities and assisted living residences now must conduct criminal background checks on all prospective direct care staff, just as nursing homes and home care agencies have been required to do.
- AARP NY successfully fought proposed changes in the Medicaid program that could have limited access to health and long term care services for many low- to moderate-income families by limiting certain consumer protections when trying to access Medicaid services.
- Health care providers or practitioners who are making a recommendation or referral regarding long term care services must now provide the patient or the patient’s designated representative with contact information for NY Connects: Choices for Long Term Care. NY Connects provides locally accessible, consumer-centered access points to individuals seeking information about long term care options.
- AARP has historically supported the Nurse Modernization Act, which allows Nurse Practitioners with over 2 years of service to make diagnoses, prescribe medication, and order medical tests without a written practice agreement with a physician. That can decrease health care consumer costs and expedite treatment for patients.
The Visually Impaired
- Trained vision rehabilitation professionals (VPRs) would become more accessible to the visually impaired, particularly those who lose their sight because of an aging-related condition, under an AARP-backed bill (S.3558-D - Griffo/A.3597-C - Lupardo) that passed the Senate. The legislation allows for licensing of trained VRPs, access to whom is now restricted because of the current lack of licensing.
Pedestrians, Motorists and Bicyclists
- Most towns (those with 50,000 or fewer residents) would be able to set their own speed limits, rather than having to petition the Department of Transportation to start what’s often a long and burdensome process that frequently ends in denial, under an AARP-backed bill (S.1356 - Little)/A.6089 - Russell) that passed the Senate.
- The State Budget extended through May 2019 a program allowing motorists to take accident prevention courses over the internet, including AARP’s online Driver Safety Program. More than 75,000 New York residents have participated in the AARP program since 2009. Research shows that 97% of our course participants change at least one of their driving behaviors as a result of taking our course - improving their own safety and that of their fellow drivers. Participants can also receive reductions on their auto insurance of up to $148 per year.
- Bicycle and pedestrian safety measures would be included in the curricula of driver’s education courses to make streets safer for both motorists and non-motorists under an AARP-backed bill (S.6143 - Golden/A.4194-A - Mosely) that passed the Senate.
- Consumers facing “mystery” and potentially abusive debt collections would receive greater protections under an AARP-supported bill that passed the Assembly (S.7349 - Savino/A.9053 - Weinstein). The legislation responds to a growing number of lawsuits on debts too old to be pursued, resulting from identity theft, or already paid or satisfied, as well as default judgments against consumers who didn’t even know they were facing a lawsuit.Among other things, the bill requires court papers to include more information about the debt sued upon and enhances protections to consumers who never received notice that they were being sued.
- Any state agency, board, or commission that collects data on the ethnicity of state residents would have to use separate categories for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, who are often misrepresented as a single group even though they include ethnicities from over 30 different countries under an AARP-backed bill that passed the Assembly (S.2348-B - Stavisky/A.1186-B - Kim).
- The State Budget added $400,000 for “kinship” programs to allow family members to keep in their homes children whose parents are unable to raise them, providing the children a stable family home and helping them avoid foster care placements.
AARP New York volunteers and staff also continued advocating for the Relative Caregiver Bill, which would make it easier for non-grandparent relatives such as aunts, uncles, adult siblings, and great-grandparents, to petition for custody and guardianship of children who have lived in their homes for at least two years straight ( S.2094-B - Golden)/A.7189-B - Rozic).
That would give the children a better chance at a stable family life and a strong foundation at home – and would simply extend to non-grandparent relatives the same rights grandparents have had for 11 years. The bill passed the State Senate, and this year picked up the key support of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus.