Thursday, June 11, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for June 12-18, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Hello again, everybody! The 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature will be remembered for both successes and failures.

Completing a budget that avoided serious cuts in the most important of state services has to be considered a success of this session. That success would not have been possible without federal stimulus dollars.

Federal stimulus dollars saved education –the largest function of state government – from serious cuts in a year of declining state revenues. While the budget for education was protected, the budget overall – like last year’s budget – was crafted without much creativity.

A failure in the budget discussion was the House of Representatives’ refusal to consider a proposal to protect nursing home benefits for hundreds of elderly Oklahomans. A situation exists that could force hundreds of senior citizens out of nursing homes through no fault of their own.

Because of automatic cost-of-living adjustments some seniors get in teachers’ retirement benefits and Social Security, hundreds of Oklahomans could lose Medicaid nursing home benefits. Eligibility limits generally are not being adjusted because of budget concerns.

Keep in mind, these “cost-of-living” adjustments are just that: designed to cover the increased cost of simply living. The financial situation of these seniors is not being improved by these modest increases.

This is a classic government “Catch-22” situation. The cost-of-living increases are supposed to help those getting them; in fact, the increases have the potential to seriously harm those seniors getting them.

I proposed a bill allowing seniors in that situation to use Medicaid Income Pension Trusts. This would allow seniors receiving nursing home benefits to remain eligible for those benefits. The plan had a slight cost to the state – $4 million – but would have attracted an additional $8 million in federal assistance for seniors who need it.

Despite passing the Senate on an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives leadership – as they do on so many critical issues to help Oklahomans – simply ignored it. In effect, they turned their back on seniors, ignoring a critical problem that – if left unaddressed – could devastate senior Oklahomans and their families.

I refuse to give up on these senior citizens. During the summer and fall, I will continue working with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to address this problem. If there is a way to correct this situation without an act of the Legislature, I will do everything possible to find it.

Further, I have requested the president pro tempore of the Senate authorize an interim study on the issue to look at both the costs and benefits of enacting a solution. My intent is to shine a very bright light on this problem – one bright enough that even myopic House leaders can see it.

To do anything less would be to fail one of the great moral tests of government: how we treat those in the twilight of life, our senior citizens.

Thanks again for reading “The Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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