During the 2010 Legislative session, AARP South Dakota focused advocacy efforts on several key issues including health care, long-term care and financial security. Despite starting the session with lawmakers facing $40M budget deficit, the session included several wins for South Dakota’s 50-plus residents.
AARP South Dakota communicated in very clear terms to legislators that the Medicaid program, which serves as a safety net for the state’s physically and financially vulnerable individuals, should not be a target for budget cuts. The Legislature did not propose any cuts to Medicaid, either in benefits, payments, or eligibility, throughout the legislative session and AARP South Dakota applauds the state’s commitment to these vital services.
The session also resulted in a number of important advancements in the long-term care arena. AARP supported Senate Bill (SB) 69 which will allow for the development of a new East River veterans’ nursing home to fill the large geographic gap between the eastern half of South Dakota and the state’s only veterans’ nursing home in Hot Springs. This new facility required an exception to the state’s nursing home moratorium, which has been in existence since the early 80’s.
In addition, the legislation will allow currently existing facilities to “split beds” for the purpose of building a new facility within 15 miles of the existing structure. This will allow both large and small communities to share nursing home capacity while ensuring that both the new and existing facilities have a census that is not less than 10 percent below the statewide average Medicaid census per facility. This will be good for those areas of the state where small adjustments to capacity in a small geographic area will ensure that access is available where needed and when.
In addition, AARP supported SB 168, which increased the guarantee limits on long term care insurance policies from $100,000 to $300,000 through the South Dakota Life and Health Guarantee Association. This legislation guarantees that if an individual loses their long term care coverage due to a company becoming insolvent they will be guaranteed benefits up to the value of their long term care policy not to exceed $300,000. The previous limit of $100,000 did not accurately reflect the current value of many long term care policies sold in the market and the increase coverage limit will provide more meaningful protection for policy holders today and into the future. This is also particularly poignant as there have been rumblings that one of the larger long term care insurance providers selling policies in the state may be on the verge of being declared insolvent.
AARP supported and testified in favor of House Bill (HB) 1144, which would have added age to the categories with protected status in our state’s anti-discrimination statutes. South Dakota remains one of two states that do not include age as a protected category in state law and instead, uses more permissive federal laws to govern age discrimination in the workplace. This leaves thousands of older workers without protection from this form of discrimination in the workplace. The House Health and Human Services committee voted down the bill, 8-4.
Once again, AARP South Dakota strongly supported the reauthorization of the Elderly and Disabled Property and Sales Tax Refund program. The measure passed without a single opposing vote in either the House or the Senate. This important tax refund program provides nearly 2500 low-income elderly and disabled South Dakotans an average refund of just over $165 dollars for sales and property taxes paid. Governor Rounds has continued this program throughout his Administration and AARP South Dakota will continue to push for this program with the next Legislature and Governor in 2011.