April 10, 2012
Some Wins, Some Losses for Senior
Citizens in this Legislative Session
While senior citizens will see some benefits as a result of policy passed during the Wisconsin Legislature’s 2011-13 legislative floor period, the news for seniors is not all good.
FAMILY CARE – Fortunately, the state legislature reversed course on a Family Care enrollment cap it created as part of the state budget bill. Created in 1998 to streamline a patchwork of long-term care programs, Family Care creates individualized long-term care plans rather than plugging individuals into one rigid long-term care program. In the budget, the majority party put a cap on enrollment in Family Care, effectively shutting off any new enrollment. I voted against the cap.
I support Family Care because it allows more people to get long-term care in their homes rather than nursing homes. Furthermore, in most counties, it costs less to provide long-term care through Family Care than through the traditional Medicaid programs. Fortunately, after direction from the federal government, the legislature’s majority party reversed course and both Democrats and Republicans voted to lift the Family Care cap that had been imposed.
That’s the good news. Now, here’s “the rest of the story.”
HOMESTEAD TAX CREDIT – The eligibility requirements for the Homestead Tax Credit, an income tax cut for low-income renters and homeowners, have not kept pace with inflation. In 2009, the legislature changed state law so that the eligibility criteria are tethered to increases in the Consumer Price Index, what is known as indexing for inflation. Unfortunately, in the 2011-13 state budget, the majority party repealed indexing. I voted against this bill. I co-authored legislation to restore indexing but the majority party did not move the bill forward.
MEDIGAP – “Medigap” is a private insurance policy that supplements Medicare coverage. Medigap providers frequently offer new customers low rates when they first enroll and then raise the premiums after the introductory pricing ends. The insured person then finds it difficult to switch to a more affordable plan because, after the mandatory six-month open enrollment period, Medigap providers are allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and to set prices based on medical underwriting. I supported legislation requiring Medigap insurance providers to offer an annual 30-day open enrollment period in which the insurance company is prohibited from denying coverage or using medical underwriting to determine a policy offer. Unfortunately, this bill was never even granted a committee hearing.
PATIENT RIGHTS – Under the guise of “tort reform,” the majority party passed legislation that makes it more difficult for nursing home residents to be compensated when harmed. The bill imposes caps on compensation for victims of nursing home abuse and neglect, allows nursing homes to force patients to agree to arbitration to settle claims of abuse or neglect instead of going to court, and makes nursing home incident and investigative reports inadmissible in a court of law. I voted against this legislation and co-authored legislation to repeal these changes. Unfortunately, the bill to repeal did not pass.
VOTER SUPPRESSION – I voted against the so-called voter identification bill because it is, in reality, a voter suppression bill. The bill was touted as preventing fraudulent voting, but the bill goes far beyond fraud prevention and makes it harder for elderly voters, young voters, low-income voters, and minority voters to cast ballots. Many elderly voters have difficulty getting their birth certificates in order to get a state-issued ID. The voter ID requirement has been suspended by two circuit court judges. It remains to be seen whether the law will be struck down as unconstitutional.
I supported two bills to mitigate the harm of the voter ID bill. One would exempt voters who are 65 years of age and older from the need to show a photo ID. The other bill would require the Division of Motor Vehicles to go to communities and provide seniors and disabled citizens free identification cards. This bill would also allow a senior citizen to sign an affidavit attesting that they were unable to obtain a photo ID despite diligence on their part. Unfortunately, neither bill made progress in the legislature.
I will remain committed to senior issues and am hopeful that next session, the legislature can work more productively to help our seniors. For more information on any of these policy items, or any state government matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.