Here's something you don't see every day: Senior citizen advocates have something nice to say about Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Remember, this is the same governor who angered thousands of older Alaskans by zeroing out the Longevity Bonus.
When he killed the bonus, a monthly payment made regardless of financial need, Gov. Murkowski realized that less affluent seniors needed continued help. He persuaded the Legislature to create a safety net called Senior Care.
That was a notable accomplishment in its own right. The Republican governor had to win over a Republican-led Legislature that doesn't generally have much enthusiasm for new social programs. Had the idea come from Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, there probably wouldn't be a Senior Care program.
This past session, Gov. Murkowski and the Legislature updated Senior Care, so it will dovetail with the new federal prescription drug benefit under Medicare.
The leading senior advocacy group in Alaska, AARP, says that with the new version, ''Alaska now has one of the best 'wrap-arounds' for Medicare Part D in the country.''
This year, low-income Alaska seniors can choose between $120 monthly cash payments or a slightly higher amount of prescription drug benefits. Next year, when federal Medicare coverage kicks in for those financially struggling Alaska seniors, they can collect the cash payment.
Seniors who are a little better off can get some state help with prescription drug costs. For those making between 135 and 175 percent of poverty level, this year's drug benefit is a maximum of $1,000. Next year, Senior Care will pay the deductible and monthly premium for their federal Medicare coverage. In 2006, the very low limits on the amount of assets that Senior Care clients are allowed to have will be raised to more realistic levels.
Senior Care was created from the ashes of the fire storm over killing the longevity bonus. It's a case where political expediency and common sense compassion combined to produce badly needed help for Alaska's financially vulnerable seniors.
Anchorage Daily News,
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