Legislature: AARP Alaska as fierce defender
July 1, 2022 | View PDF
Note: This story was updated after the printed version went to press.
AARP Alaska advocates for public policies that matter most to Alaskans age 50 and older and their families. During the 2021-22 legislative session, we passed 15 of our 22 budget and bill priorities benefiting older Alaskans.
We saw successful passage of policies that support family caregivers, improve healthcare access and promote health. With wins ranging from dementia awareness and telehealth to expanded scopes of practice for Physician Assistants, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN), and Advanced Practice Dental Hygienists, we saw significant progress in access to care in Alaska.
This year, we focused on changing the perceptions and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD), which is a chronic disease, not a natural effect of aging. Increased public and provider awareness can lead to risk reduction, delayed onset and earlier diagnosis, leading to better patient outcomes and reduced costs. AARP volunteers shared their stories with legislators, several of whom had stories of their own, and HB308 Dementia Awareness passed with broad bipartisan support. The bill establishes a dedicated position in the Division of Public Health to access federal funding and lead awareness work alongside the Alaska Dementia Action Collaborative.
We continued to empower Alaskans to choose how – and where – to live as they age. While most older Alaskans are self-supporting and independent, some need financial assistance to live independently when the need for long-term care arises.
During the session, the Legislature funded critical deferred maintenance projects for Pioneer Homes, ensured continued access to lower-level care settings. They also passed a budget increase for Medicaid reimbursement rates for home and community based services providers helping to make up ground lost in recent years, when flat funding fell behind inflation and the growing population of older Alaskans. We were disappointed that Governor Dunleavy vetoed a similar increase to senior centers and other non-profits for senior community services like meals, transportation and in-home help.
With COVID radically changing the healthcare landscape, we also ensured that pandemic-related strides in healthcare access weren’t lost. Telehealth benefits older adults by reducing or eliminating distance and transportation barriers and promoting autonomy. Prior to 2020, many insurers, including the Alaska Medicaid program, limited telehealth access by setting restrictive standards, including provider/service type and delivery modalities. To ensure beneficiaries could receive care while maximizing infection control, federal and state governments temporarily lifted many of these restrictions during the pandemic.
These flexibilities bolstered telehealth access by expanding the locations, delivery methods, providers, and services covered during a telehealth appointment. The legislature passed HB265, Healthcare Services by Telehealth, to maintain telehealth delivery flexibilities, including upholding patient choice and preserving the ability to have audio-only visits, critical for older adults challenged by technology or Alaskans lacking reliable high speed internet. The bill also allows for telehealth follow-up care with out of state physicians, imperative for Alaskans who see specialists Outside.
Concurrently, we supported the passage of legislation to establish a state broadband office and the architecture for federally funded universal broadband deployment. Access to high-speed internet brings aging at home within reach by providing connections to friends and family, telehealth, assistance programs, and meaningful work and education.
We want Alaskans to be able to live and thrive in their local communities throughout their life. That’s why we also support a long-term fiscal plan that includes a broad-based tax and other new revenues. We will continue to fight to ensure that older Alaskans can choose how to live as they age.
Read our full legislative report at aarp.org/ak.
Marge Stoneking is the Associate State Director of Advocacy for AARP Alaska.