Alaska Commission on Aging legislative update

The dust has finally settled from legislative session, with important budget items and pieces of legislation passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Walker of interest to seniors and other public members.

Some positive news on funding

Good news for senior programs! Restored funding was approved in the amount of $5.1 million for the Alaska Senior Benefits program, administered by the Division of Public Assistance, in the Governor’s signed operating budget. Payment assistance for the two lower income tiers in the monthly amounts of $250 and $175 will be maintained this year. The highest income tier will receive $76 monthly beginning in August.

Restored funding was also approved by the legislature and Governor Walker for senior grant-funded services (senior meals, transportation, adult day, homemaker and related services), and partially restored for Personal Care Assistance, General Relief Services and the Pioneer Homes.

In the capital budget, $3.5 million was approved for Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s Senior Citizen Housing Development Fund for the construction and renovation of senior housing, in addition to $1 million for the Public and Community Transportation State Match funds to support federal grant requests from community public transit agencies serving seniors and persons with disabilities.

Expanding Medicaid health services

SB 74, Medicaid Reform, sponsored by Senator Pete Kelly, transforms health care provided by Medicaid to improve the quality of health care, patient health outcomes, and program sustainability over time. SB 74 builds upon Medicaid reforms already under way and will implement new measures to expand appropriate health care services offered to Medicaid recipients, which include qualifying seniors.

These measures include enhancing use of primary care case management and health homes to offer coordinated care to people who have chronic health conditions, such as mental health and substance use disorders; expanding use of telemedicine to improve access to health care and save money on travel costs; reforming certain provisions of the current 1915(c) waiver program under a new Medicaid State Plan option known as the 1915(k) to generate a 6 percent higher federal reimbursement that is projected to draw down an additional $9 million; refinancing certain grant programs that serve persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain injury, and other cognitive impairments to bring in new federal dollars for these services; measures to reduce the non-urgent use of emergency room services, and much more. Altogether, SB 74 is expected to save Alaska more than $365 million in the first six years.

Commission on Aging extended

An eight-year extension of the Alaska Commission on Aging, SB 124, sponsored by Senator Bill Stoltze, was also approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Walker on June 15 at the commission’s office in Juneau. Several people attended the bill signing ceremony, including Rep. Lynn Gattis, who carried the bill on the House floor.

We thank Governor Walker for signing this important legislation. By statute, the Commission on Aging is responsible for developing the four-year state plan for senior services in collaboration with many partners and public members to fulfill the federal requirement for all states that receive federal funding for senior services identified by the Older Americans Act. The commission also provides planning, outreach education, and advocacy on behalf of Alaska seniors regarding policy and budget recommendations to policy makers.

Denise Daniello is the Alaska Commission on Aging Executive Director.

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