SeniorCare program a legislative casualty

Assistance had helped 245 seniors in Juneau

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2007

A state program that provides cash and help with prescription drug costs for about 7,000 elderly Alaskans will end next month after legislation to extend it fizzled in the House of Representatives.

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The SeniorCare program, which helps 245 people in Juneau and 631 people in Southeast, will send out its last monthly payments of $120 on June 1.

Seniors in need will have to turn to other sources of assistance, such as Medicaid, adult public assistance and food stamps.

Assistance with heating bills will be available in the fall. Other community resources may also be available, according to representatives of the state Department of Health and Social Services.

"We are doing what we can," said DHSS legislative liaison Sherry Hill. "We are referring them to other resources that are available. Once they contact us, we'll look at them on a case-by-base basis."

The program had been enacted by the Legislature in 2004, extending from one created in 2003 by former Gov. Murkowski. A sunset clause that kicks in next month was part of the plan.

Four separate items of legislation were introduced this year to extend the program, two from the governor, one from the Senate and one from the House, but none was successful.

SeniorCare has been available to low-income Alaskans age 65 or older. It offered a monthly cash payment of $120 for seniors with incomes less than $16,133 and assets less than $6,000, or for couples with less than $21,641 income and less than $9,000 in assets.

Payments of premiums and deductibles of Medicare Prescription Drug Plan were also available.

DHSS Commissioner Karleen Jackson issued a statement after the end of the program was announced.

"The Department of Health and Social Services is working to assist seniors impacted by this change to identify all other options available to meet their needs," Jackson said. "We are dedicated to promoting and protecting the health and well being of Alaskans, including our seniors."

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.



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