AARP staff, volunteers and grassroots advocates in Connecticut won several significant victories for residents aged 50-plus during the most recent legislative session.
See Also: Hold your elected officials accountable
The 2011 Legislative Session, which ended on June 8, saw the passage of numerous bills that will benefit AARP members and all older adults in Connecticut, including bills that protect older adults ability to receive care in their homes and communities as they age; lower electric rates and provide consumer protections for residents purchasing electricity through a retail supplier; require criminal background checks for home health care professionals, expand patient-access to their own medical records, and ensure access to affordable, quality health insurance for the uninsured.
AARP’s top priority again this year was the reduction of a proposed 15% cost-share on clients in the state-funded Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders. After AARP successfully fought to reduce the 15% cost-share to 6% in 2010, Governor Malloy proposed increasing the cost-share to 15% in 2011. The final budget passed by the House and Senate reduced this cost-share to 7%, saving the average person on the program over $70 per month. This reduction will not only enable thousands of frail seniors to stay independent and continue to receive care services in their homes, but by helping seniors delay or avoid costly nursing home care, it actually saves the state money in the long-term. In addition, AARP and our community partners were able to convince the Legislature to keep Level One of the program open to new clients.
AARP also fought to lower your electricity costs by supporting passage of comprehensive energy legislation that will change the way Connecticut buys power and aims to bring our rates more into line with surrounding states, whose rates average about 15% less than Connecticut. The AARP-backed bill on home energy affordability received final legislative approval on June 7, passing both chambers with strong bipartisan votes. The bill is expected to be signed by the Governor. The bill will:
- Reform the electricity procurement process in Connecticut to include more flexibility, so that the state can purchase electricity at more competitive rates and save consumers money on standard electric service
- Give consumers tools to shop competitively for electric suppliers and protect themselves against aggressive or fraudulent marketing practices
- Help residential customers finance the installation of energy efficient burners, boilers, and furnaces
- Provide extra support for low-income families and seniors struggling with electric and natural gas costs
The legislation also includes the creation of an energy procurement officer’s position within a newly combined Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Connecticut would become one of only two states in the country — the other being Illinois — to have its own energy procurement officer. The legislation is anticipated to save Connecticut ratepayers at least 5 percent on their home energy bills and begin to bring Connecticut’s rates more in line with those of neighboring states.
In separate legislation, the General Assembly also eliminated an unfair surcharge on electric bills that began impacting utility customers in January 2011. Eliminating that surcharge will save Connecticut ratepayers more than $600 million.
AARP Connecticut State Director Brenda Kelley said, “On behalf of our nearly 600,000 members in Connecticut and all 50+ Connecticut residents, AARP would like to thank the many community organizations, volunteers and advocates that worked with us to ensure the interests of older adults were heard, and listened to, by our state legislators, especially during one of the worst budget years in recent memory. Amid these fiscal challenges, AARP members and volunteers stepped up and made a difference by championing legislation that will put money back into the pockets and improve the lives of countless older adults and their families, right here in Connecticut.”
A number of additional bills championed by AARP were passed during the 2011 Legislative Session and have been sent to the Governor for signature. These bills include:
S.B. 921, Establishing a Statewide Health Insurance Exchange to Drive Competition & Expand Affordable Health Insurance Options. To satisfy requirements of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the legislation sets up a statewide health insurance marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to compare and shop for health insurance. The Exchange will be open to individuals not enrolled in an employer-sponsored insurance program, Medicare or Medicaid and small businesses with up to 50 employees, beginning in 2014. AARP fought successfully to create a conflict-free governing board, so health insurers offering products through the exchange are not also on the governing board regulating those products. The legislation also sets up a framework for “active purchase” that would require competition among health plans vying to participate in the exchange based on cost, value, quality and customer service.
H.B. 6618, Section 543, Patient Access to Medical Test Results. The omnibus public health bill included key provisions that will grant consumers greater access over their own medical records. The bill requires clinical labs to provide patient test results to additional health care providers under certain circumstances and allows a patient to receive test results directly when they undergo repeated testing.
H.B. 6618, Section 548, Strategic Plan for Long-Term Care Rebalancing. Another section of the public health omnibus bill requires the development of a strategic plan to provide greater home and community based services and supports for individuals needing long-term care. Under the legislation, the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services can contract with long-term care providers to carry out the plan and the Commissioner is authorized to fund initiatives with federal grant money available under Money Follows the Person or the State Balance Incentive Payment Program.
H.B. 6618, Section 554, Criminal & Patient Abuse Background Checks for Long-Term Care Employees. This provision requires that employees with direct access to long-term care patients or residents undergo criminal history checks and patient abuse background searches before they are allowed direct access to clients. Employees covered include employees of a nursing home, home health agency, assisted living services agency, intermediate care facility, a chronic disease hospital or an agency providing hospice care.
There is also modification to the background check requirement for employees of homemaker-companion agencies. The Department of Public Health is required to set up a program to facilitate the necessary searches, receive criminal history check results and notify long-term care facilities when a potential employee has a disqualifying criminal offense or a history of patient abuse. Connecticut received funding under the federal Affordable Care Act to help pay for the development of this comprehensive criminal background check program that provides an important protection for vulnerable seniors receiving long-term care services and supports.
S.B. 11, Approval Process for Insurance Rate Hikes. Over the strong objection of the insurance lobby, the General Assembly put in place a new review process that allows public input on health insurance rate increases that exceed 10%.
S.B. 913, Paid Sick Leave for Service & Food Workers. Nearly 4 in 10 private sector workers have no paid sick days at work, which means they lose pay or risk workplace discipline if they need to stay home due to their illness. The unavailability of paid sick days, especially in the nursing home and home health care industry, unnecessarily endangers public health. When workers – particularly those in health and long-term care occupations who have among the lowest rates of sick-day coverage – go to work sick because they can’t afford to stay home, that threatens the health of people who come into contact with them, particularly those with weakened immune systems such as seniors. S.B. 913 requires certain employers who have more than 50 employees in Connecticut to provide covered employees with paid sick leave accruing at a rate of one hour for a 40-hour work week up to a maximum of 40 hours (or 5 days) per year.