Senior News By Marianne Mills
The top priority of AARP Alaska this legislative session is the development of a comprehensive fiscal plan. "A long-term fiscal plan is the only way our state will be able to provide the home- and community-based services needed by our growing senior population," said Pat Luby, advocacy director for AARP Alaska. "If there is no growth in home- and community-based servicces, older Alaskans will end up in nursing homes inappropriately. We should try to keep people at home or in the least restrictive setting. Helping seniors stay out of nursing homes and in their own communities is better for them, plus, over time, it saves the state significant expenditures.
According to the Alaska Division of Senior and Disabilities Services, the average annual cost of sustaining a person in a nursing home is $155,525 per year. In contrast, the average annual cost of an older Alaskan waiver consisting of home and community-based services is only $21,155. Home- and community-based services provided through the waiver include care coordination, chore services, adult day services, meals, transportation and respite care. AARP is advocating for companion services to be added to this lst and to expand eligibility to include diagnoses such as Alzheimer's disease. For those seniors not eligible for the older Alaskan waiver, AARP Alaska encourages the legislature to restore funding for adult day and care coordination grants, which were cut in 2003.
Addressing the pharmaceutical costs of older Alaskans is another one of AARP's priorities. AARP supports Gov. Murkowski's Senior Care Program enhancements, which include taking care of the deductibles and premiums of prescription drugs for seniors who are below 300 percent of the poverty level. "This will help thousands of additional older Alaskans struggling with pharmaceutical bills," Luby says. More than 40 percent of Alaska seniors are estimated to be eligible.
AARP Alaska also actively promotes new legislation proposed by Gov. Murkowski to expand the range of dental services available for low-income adult Alaskans. "Oran health problems lead to poor nutrition, which leads to poor health and disastrous consequences," Luby says. Whereas only emergency dental care is currently provided, the new proposal would offer $1,150 per year so that persons can get needed dental exams, ccleaning, tooth restoration or extgraction, or an upper or lower full denture.
Among its list of top legislative priorities, AARP supports the governor's proposal to provide an additional investigator for Adult Protective Services. APS helps to prevent or stop abuse, exploitation, abandonment, neglect or self-neglect of vulnerable adults who cannot protect themselves or seek help. The complete list of AARP Alaska legislative priorities for 2005 can be obtained from Marie Darlin, AARP's coordinator of the Capital City Task Force, at 586-3636. Marie regularly testifies at legislative hearings and meets with individual legislators about AARP concerns.
The mission of AARP is for people over 50 to have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable for them and for society as a whole. Flowing from this mission, AARP advocates for not just seniors but for families as well. Just las week, Darlin testified on behalf of newborn hearing screening. "After all, we are the largest organization of grandparents in the country," Luby says.
Marianne Mills is the program director for Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.