Senior benefits update

News and views from Rita

Senior Benefits and heating assistance

If you are 65 years old or older, you might be eligible for the Senior Benefits program, depending on your income. You should call 1-888-352-4150 and ask for an application. Monthly benefits are, depending on income, $125 or $175 or $250 – and assets do not count.

It is also time to apply for the heating assistance program. If you do not have an application, you can get one at our office or by calling statewide, 1-800-470-3058.

Applications will be accepted Oct. 1, 2014 through April 30, 2015. The program begins issuing grants on Nov. 1, 2014.

Health insurance costs conflicting information

The number of uninsured is expected to decline by nearly half, from 45 million in 2012 to 23 million by 2023, as a result of the coverage expansions associated with the Affordable Care Act, according to a report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of the Actuary.  The report is being published in “Health Affairs.”

In addition, health care costs are increasing at a slower rate, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, said Marilyn Tavenner, CMS administrator.

So much for the dire reports advanced by those who want to destroy the Affordable Care Act.

For Alaskans, who have been reading conflicting reports about the costs of health care going up – for instance in a press release from the Division of Insurance – please realize that politics has again reared its ugly head. The press release does not make it clear that that this is not about Alaskans who have coverage through their employers. The numbers in the press release about how many Alaskans might be hit with 37 percent rate increases are misleading and the document does not mention that there is a lower cost alternative, as rates from Moda Health are lower than that of Premera.

The Insurance Division agency said it had conducted a rigorous, thorough and lengthy review of the proposed rates. However, when asked by Alaska Disptach News reporter Dermot Cole to see the report, he found out that there is no report, and the details of hundreds of pages of insurance filings are confidential until they take effect Jan. 1, 2015.

According to Cole, Lori Wing-Heier, the Insurance Division commissioner, stated that 88 percent of the 13,000 people who signed up through are not going to see much change and that 6,000 Alaskans who do not receive any sort of federal assistance will be hardest hit by the increases.

She added that the state can disapprove state insurance rate plans and until rates are approved, they are “quasi-disapproved.” She declined to say whether insurance companies had asked for higher rate increases, citing state statutes regarding confidentiality.

Alaska was one of the few states that chose not to apply for the Affordable Care Act grants through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). Governor Parnell was one of the few state governors to reject Medicaid expansion, which could have helped bring down health care costs, and the state did not apply for the grants through CMS that would have enhanced its rate review process.

Rita Hatch volunteers for the Older Persons Action Group’s Medicare assistance program and is an OPAG board member. Call her at 276-1059 in Anchorage or toll-free statewide at 1-800-478-1059. Her email address is

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