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AARP: Spending plan spares EPIC

AARP: Spending plan spares EPIC

Elderly New Yorkers have reason to be pleased with the proposed state budget from Gov. Andrew Cuomo,

Elderly New Yorkers have reason to be pleased with the proposed state budget from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, according to the AARP.

Low-income seniors were anxiously waiting last week to see if the budget would extend the co-payment assistance offered through the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program. After March the funding was scheduled to run out of the assistance, which ensures that nearly 300,000 people pay no more than $20 for their drugs and as little as $3 in some cases.

“The governor kept the program intact in his executive budget proposal,” said Bill Ferris, the New York state legislative representative for AARP.

At a glance

According to the most recent report from the state Department of Health, more than 20,000 people from the Capital Region are enrolled in EPIC, including:

Fulton County 1,771

Montgomery County 2,062

Saratoga County 3,727

Schenectady County 2,576

Schoharie County 862

EPIC enrollees include seniors who are at least 65 and are single with an income below $35,000 a year or married with an income below $50,000. The program is secondary coverage to the federal government’s Medicare Part D program. If it hadn’t been continued, enrollees would be responsible for 25 percent of the cost of their drugs, which in some cases would triple or quadruple their current out-of-pocket expenses.

The AARP would still like to see more done to help seniors, especially with support for elder home care and the creation of an independent consumer advocate office to speak up for consumers when determining utility rates.

The state isn’t adequately investing in informal home care for seniors, Ferris said, despite 4 million families caring for seniors at home. These informal services have an estimated value of $32 billion, according to the AARP, which makes them a valuable resource.

David McNally, AARP manager of government affairs, noted in a news release, “Informal family caregivers also slow the growth of nursing home care, which is largely funded by taxpayers through Medicaid.”

And while AARP is happy that Cuomo is planning on more oversight of the state’s utility companies, there is still an interest in a stronger consumer voice. Ferris argued that New York should join the list of 40 other states that have an independent advocate speaking for consumers when utility rates are set.

“[Cuomo] should create this independent office,” he said. “Who will be the voice of the consumer?”

Energy costs, especially during the extremes of summer and winter, are a major concern for the elderly, who are at risk for health problems in these seasons.

The Joint Legislative hearing on the health and Medicaid portions of the state budget are on Wednesday.

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