Alaskans need more than crumbs of truth about Pioneer Home rates and future

A headline in the Daily News-Miner Saturday, on a column allegedly written by health commissioner Adam Crum, says "The truth about Pioneers' Homes new rates."

Better to make that, "Crumbs of truth about Pioneers' Homes new rates."

This attempted damage control was probably written by Crum’s publicity staff, but the commissioner is responsible for what the document reveals and conceals about the gigantic Dunleavy rate increases approved despite near-unanimous public opposition.

Let’s start with the biggest missing crumb of all: The promise that Gov. Mike Dunleavy made that he would not cut the Pioneer Home budget, meaning a promise of no rate increases.

Crum doesn’t admit that there is no coherent plan for the future of the Pioneer Homes, no financial analysis of the impact on residents and no financial analysis of the impact on state government. All of this adds up to confusion and chaos.

It is possible that temporary budget director Donna Arduin, perhaps with a nod from Dunleavy, sees a giant rate hike as an step toward getting the Pioneer Homes in private hands. The residents of the homes, average age 87, deserve better than this from the governor.

Let’s look at a few more details.

The new monthly Pioneer Home rates , which start Sunday, range from $3,623 to $15,000. The old rates, which went up by 1.5 percent in 2017, ranged from $2,588 a month to $6,795 a month.

This means that annual increases for residents will be anywhere from $12,000 to nearly $100,000.

The thrust of the plan, according to Arduin, is to end all state subsidies for the home residents as of Sunday. Dunleavy never defended this idea, but Arduin is here on loan from Outside and isn’t accountable to the voters.

“If you can afford to pay for it, we’re asking you to pay for the cost,” is how Arduin described the Dunleavy philosophy.

“To meet the expectation of a budget where expenditures cannot exceed existing revenue, I will be putting forward a regulation package in the coming days that aligns our rates with the cost of providing services,’ Clinton Lasley, director of the Pioneer Home system, wrote to residents six months ago. In that bit of propaganda, he included the false claim that the largest rate hike in history fulfilled a Dunleavy campaign promise.

So far, about 13 residents have moved or will move out of the Pioneer Home in Anchorage, KTVA reported.

Dunleavy, as a candidate, never suggested that a rate increase of even $1 a year was necessary. But after getting control of state government, he had his subordinates announce his “no subsidy” policy without asking Alaskans what they thought of the idea.

But don’t worry, Dunleavy, Arduin and Crum say. Residents who can’t afford to pay more and are already bankrupt or will soon become bankrupt will be given a state subsidy and will not be kicked out of the homes.

There is no research from Crum, Arduin or Dunleavy on how these financial shifts will shake out and whether a subsidy eliminated with one hand requires a new subsidy with the other. The Dunleavy plan will mean that more residents become indigent at a faster rate.

The state House approved HB 96, which would overturn the Dunleavy rate hikes and replace them with a much smaller increase. The Senate has yet to take it up, but I expect it will approve the measure, leaving it up to Dunleavy to decide whether he wants to veto the bill or succumb to a more reasonable approach.

To qualify for a state subsidy, residents have to spend most of their savings, but are allowed to keep up to $10,000 in total assets and an income of $50 a week. In the case of a married couple with one person in a home, and a spouse in the community, the spouse can keep $98,000 in assets and a place of residence.

Any financial assistance given to to a home resident is consider a debt to the state. After the resident leaves the home or dies, the state will try to collect it from the estate. “The state will not pursue a claim to the extent that it will create an undue hardship on the surviving spouse or legal dependent(s) of the deceased. Heirlooms are exempt from a state claim without regard to value,” according to the financial aid booklet.

When Crum writes, “For those who are concerned that the increased rates will make the Pioneers’ Homes unaffordable to many older Alaskans, a person’s income or assets are not an eligibility requirement for entrance into a Pioneers’ Home,” I’ll say this much: There is a crumb of truth in that statement.

Dermot Cole9 Comments