ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Update 9:30 p.m.:
The Office of the Governor has responded to concerns raised by Alaska Pioneer Home residents about proposed fee increases.
Gov. Dunleavy's press secretary Matt Shuckerow told Channel 2 on Tuesday evening that these changes are still only in the consideration phase. He said the increases are all about bringing rates more in line with the cost of operating the facilities.
Shuckerow also allayed concerns that residents won’t be able to afford the rate increases and would have to find alternative care.
"At Pioneer Homes, the ability to be accepted is not based on the ability to pay,” he said. “No individual would be turned away based on their ability to pay or not to pay.”
Shuckerow also responded to claims made by Rep. Zack Fields, D - Anchorage, that the fee increases would not achieve the governor’s intended effect of recovering state funds. Fields said the increases would lead to an exodus of Pioneer Home residents who could no longer afford the high cost of care.
"I think it's important to note -- and the representatives should know better -- that the changes that are being made are based on individuals' abilities to pay,” Shuckerow said. He emphasized that higher-income residents who could afford the rate hike would have to pay, while those who could not afford increased rates would not have to pay.
Shuckerow said the Department of Health and Social Services is proposing to adopt regulation changes in Alaska's Administrative Code. He did not immediately provide a timeline for when these changes would go into effect.
DHSS is holding an open comment period. Residents can submit comments to firstname.lastname@example.org until 5 p.m. June 28.
After the public comment period ends, DHSS will either adopt the proposed regulation changes or other provisions dealing with the same subject. They may also decide to take no action. The language of the final regulation may be different from the governor’s initial proposal.
Click here for a notice of proposed changes to Alaska Pioneer Homes, rates and levels of service.
Update 5:45 p.m.:
Alaska Pioneer Home residents are concerned they’ll have to find a new place to live if Gov. Dunleavy follows through on an administrative regulation that would drastically increase their monthly rates.
Pioneer Home residents called in from Palmer, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka to oppose the rate increases.
According to Fields, the governor’s proposal is an attempt to recover revenue for the state — but he argues it would do just the opposite.
“Because the rate increases are so large, the state would not be able to recover revenue because residents would not be able to afford to live there,” Fields told Channel 2 Tuesday. He said 51 percent of current residents are self-pay, and the state could lose that revenue if they can no longer afford the service because of the rate increases.
Fields said there are currently three living tiers at Pioneer Homes with varying costs: The lowest tier, according to Fields, is $2,588 per month. The governor’s rates would raise that to $3,623. The highest-cost option is currently $6,795 per month, and that would increase to $15,000. Tiers in between could range from $6,569 to $13,333, up from the current $4,692.
One Anchorage Pioneer Home resident made a sarcastic comment about having to “put up a tent in the yard” if the increases went through. Another Anchorage resident said rate increases are a constant fear every year.
“And then this year, the governors proposed budget knocked our twice-mended socks off,” she said. “We already were wearing clothes from when we retired 10 or 15 years ago, and our allowance is only $200 a month.”
Fields said the proposed rate increases are an administrative regulation that can be enacted without legislative approval. But, he has introduced legislation to combat the regulation: House Bill 96, written specifically to cap the proposed increases, would be taken up at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session.
Residents can submit written testimony to email@example.com until June 28.
Channel 2 reached out to the Office of the Governor for comment and have not heard back.
Alaskans are invited to give public testimony on proposed resident rate increases for Alaska Pioneer Homes.
Pioneer residents are calling in from Palmer, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka.
You can testify by calling in now at 1-888-227-5857, or submit written testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 28.
Rep. Zack Fields, D - Anchorage, says the proposed rate increases are an administrative regulation that can be enacted without legislative approval. But, Rep. Fields has introduced House Bill 96, written to cap the proposed increases, which would be taken up at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session.
Channel 2 has reached out to the Office of the Governor for comment.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Department of Health and Social Services, along with Representatives Zack Fields, D - Anchorage, and Ivy Spohnholtz, D - Anchorage, held a call-in public comment session at Anchorage Pioneer Home on Tuesday. According to Spohnholtz, it was held by Pioneer Homes management.
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