Pioneer Home residents file lawsuit over rate increases

On Nov. 4, 2019, a lawsuit was filed against Alaska Pioneer Homes Director Clinton Lasley, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Adam Crum, Alaska State Governor Michael J. Dunleavy and the State of Alaska on behalf of Alaska Pioneer Home residents Eileen Casey of Ketchikan, Marion and Howard Rider of Juneau and all Pioneer Home residents. The lawsuit is in response to the state’s recent decision to implement an extreme rate increase, a move that is considered a financial necessity by Lasley and other state officials.

The Pioneer Home system includes six state-subsidized assisted living homes for Alaskans age 65 and older. With Homes located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, residents partially pay for monthly residential and care services while the remaining cost of care provided is subsidized by unrestricted general funds from the state budget. Prior to the rate increases’ Aug. 30, 2019 effective date, care was divided into three levels, and residents paid a portion of the full cost of care as follows: Level I, $2,588 monthly; Level II, $4,692 monthly; and Level III, $6,795 monthly.

The Pioneer Homes program is no stranger to the tumultuous nature of Alaska’s current state spending crisis. Since 2016, the state has attempted minor rate increases and even privatization for the Homes. The rate increase in August not only raised residents’ monthly copay to dwell in and receive care from Pioneer Home facilities, but has also transferred the financial burden to the Homes’ residents, effectively doing away with the subsidized cost of care gifted by the state to Alaska’s elderly population. The adjusted rates include the creation of two additional levels of care, leaving the new monthly rates as follows: Level I, $3,623; Level II, $6,569; Level III, $11,185; Level IV, $13,333; and Level V, $15,000.

In line with the Pioneer Homes’ mission statement to honor and respect life through its final breath, the purpose of the subsidized cost of care was to recognize Alaskan elders’ hard work in building Alaska’s infrastructure, homesteading efforts during early statehood and pioneering, and their strength and wisdom derived from crucial contributions to our state’s history. The lower cost of care prior to the increase also provided Alaska’s most vulnerable elders, aging persons with disabilities and dementia, with affordable care — a generally limited resource amidst Alaska’s higher cost of living and selective access to intensive, long-term care facilities.

Helmed by plaintiff attorneys Vance Sanders and Libby Bakalar of Juneau, the lawsuit seeks to stop the Pioneer Homes from enforcing the severe rate increase upon effected residents. While the process of litigation is ongoing with no confirmed hearing date, there have already been instances of controversy.

Details tell a different story

In speaking with Lasley about the rate increase in August 2019, Lasley stressed to Senior Voice that any residents unable to pay the increased costs would be eligible to apply for Medicaid waivers and the Pioneer Homes’ Payment Assistance program (PA). Amidst a summer of budget cuts and program funding devastations, Lasley described solutions to the increase in a positive light, assuring Senior Voice readers that Pioneer Home statute prohibits eviction in the case that a resident is unable to pay for their full cost of care.

But upon hearing about the threats of eviction spurring the lawsuit in early November, it became clear that there was inconsistency in statements regarding protection from eviction. Documents from the Pioneer Homes state website regarding Payment Assistance reveal that the simple act of applying for financial assistance come with heavy fine print.

When filing for Payment Assistance, residents must show proof of denial of their application for a Medicaid waiver in addition to detailing all financial assets from three years leading up to their application date. This includes documenting all bank statements across savings and checking accounts, cash, land ownership, car ownership, any boating or major equipment, jewelry, artwork and more. Granted, certain assets, including the PFD and any home occupied by a spouse or dependent, are exempt from consideration, however, it is clear by the hefty rate increase and the amount of assets required to be disclosed that any exempt assets will be drained in order to support a resident using Payment Assistance.

While Lasley made Payment Assistance sound like a gift from the Pioneer Homes to avoid eviction, the finality of the fine print is clear: money used for Payment Assistance is a debt owed by the resident to the State, a debt that will follow the resident’s estate even in the case of death.

In a late November statement to Senior Voice, Lasley seemed to send a different message regarding forgiveness and subsidization of Pioneer Home rates and eviction for inability to pay.

“Let’s say you have an apartment,” said Lasley. “When you sign a contract with a landlord, you have to pay the amount of rent that is due, as per your lease.”

Mirroring the ongoing nature of litigation, stay tuned for developments to this story in future editions.

Mirroring the ongoing nature of litigation, stay tuned for developments to this story in future editions.

HB 96, a bill introduced by the House in March 2019, seeks to implement a gradual rate increase over time for Pioneer Home residents. The bill will be reworked in the upcoming legislative session. To follow the movement of the bill in real time, visit and enter “HB 96” in the search bar.

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