Alaska Senate Considering Bill To Reverse Pioneer Home Rate Hikes

The Sitka Pioneer Home was the first of its kind. Five others operate in Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage, Wasilla and Fairbanks. (Photo by Emily Kwong / KCAW)

Last September, residents of six Pioneer homes across Alaska saw their rates jump 40 to 140 percent. This has left some seniors in dire financial straits.

Juneau resident Brad Rider says his mother’s rate has more than doubled.

“Right after it took effect, my mom’s rate went from just over $ 4,000 to over $ 11,000, almost overnight,” he said.

Rider, her parents, and resident of the Ketchikan Pioneer House, Eileen Casey, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn the rate increases.

The state justified the new tariffs by claiming that they aligned the fee with the cost of Alaskan elder care.

Pioneer Homes bills residents based on the level of care they require. In September, the lowest-paid residents saw their rates jump by about $ 1,000. But rates for some residents requiring more intensive care have jumped by more than $ 6,000.

Lawmakers weighed in. In a recent Senate hearing, Anchorage Democratic Representative Zack Fields pushed for a bill that would reduce rate hikes. He presented the bill to the Senate Committee on Health and Social Services on Monday, January 27.

“There are three purposes of House Bill 96,” he said. “Maintain Pioneer Homes and Alaska’s historic commitment to our seniors, provide income and financial stability to homes, and provide some certainty and predictability to residents and the Department as to the path of rates going forward. “

Fields recognizes that prices must increase to ensure the Pioneer Home system remains viable. But he’s proposing to link rates to inflation to make sure seniors aren’t caught off guard by dramatic rate hikes.

“The real value of rates has not kept pace with inflation for several years,” he said. “Our bill looks back and says, ‘If we were to factor in inflation going back to 2004, what would that be like? And it sets a new baseline for pricing, recognizing that costs increase over time. “

Rates under Fields’ bill would still be higher than they were before last year’s hike, but the increases would be less dramatic. Residents requiring the most intensive care would see increases of less than $ 2,000. Rates for lower-level residents would only increase by just over $ 400.

Rider pushed the committee to move the bill forward. He called on the Legislature to support both the homes and the seniors who live there.

“We should let him see the rest of the country,” he said. “These guys are great. And the people there are great.

The bill was passed by Alaska House 35-4 in the last legislative session. Senate Speaker Cathy Giessel and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich signed as Senate sponsors. But even if passed by lawmakers, it could face a governor’s veto.

In the meantime, there is financial assistance for those who cannot afford the higher tariffs. But in many cases, residents are forced to sell most of their properties and possessions. Or even divorce to disentangle their assets.

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