Pennsylvania needs to make senior issues a higher priority
By Senator Bob Mensch
Pennsylvania’s over-65 population is now at its largest point ever, both in size and as a percentage of the state’s population. Approximately 2 million Pennsylvanians, more than 15 percent of the state’s population, are 65 and older. Experts project that our senior population will continue to increase at a substantial rate for years to come.
Our growing senior population creates some unique policy challenges for Pennsylvania lawmakers. We need to ensure that our seniors’ most basic needs are being met, that high property taxes are not forcing them from their homes, and that we have adequate safeguards to protect them from financial fraud and physical abuse.
One report found that as many as 1 in 10 seniors surveyed were victims of physical abuse in the past year, a figure that does not include victims of financial abuse. Much of the abuse is never reported.
During my time as Chairman of the Aging and Youth Committee and overseeing the legislative re-write of our child protection statutes, I realized that a lot of what we were doing would have application for our seniors as well. That includes issues such as strengthening the definition of abuse, as well as working to curb physical, verbal, abandonment and financial abuses. I am now leading a team to complete the re-write of Pennsylvania's Older Adult Protective Services. We are confident we will see the same positive results for our seniors, just as we have for our youth.
Our committee also learned that a majority of financial abuse of seniors is perpetrated by immediate friends and family members. That is why I supported legislation introduced by my colleague Senator Stu Greenleaf that would address one component of the problem by making changes to Pennsylvania’s powers of attorney law to help protect senior from financial fraud and theft. On the enforcement side, I have fought to ensure that the state’s Department of Aging is doing more to prevent senior fraud and abuse of senior citizens.
To provide more seniors with access to low-cost medications, I worked in the Senate to pass a measure that expands access and eligibility for seniors to qualify for PACE and PACENET. These state programs provide prescription drug assistance to approximately 300,000 older Pennsylvanians. That bill was signed into law last year by Governor Corbett.
In retirement, many of our seniors are on fixed incomes. As a result, ever increasing property taxes are forcing far too many seniors to sell their homes. In response, I have co-sponsored legislation that will impose a freeze on property taxes for residents who are at least 65 years old and have qualified for a homestead exemption. The bill also reimburses local school districts for lost revenue so K-12 education is not shortchanged. I have also worked to make more seniors aware of Pennsylvania's existing Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program which provides rebates of between $650 and $975 to eligible seniors, widows, and individuals with disabilities.
I have also introduced my own legislation in the Senate to tackle the problem of seniors being hit with unexpected, costly medical bills that aren’t covered by insurance. My legislation, SB 1298, addresses the growing problem facing Medicare beneficiaries related to “observation status.” In some cases, when a senior visits a hospital, they may be placed on an observation status as an outpatient– sometimes for days on end – before being formally admitted as an inpatient.
While this may seem a technicality, it carries major financial implications for patients on Medicare. In some cases, it costs seniors thousands of dollars out of their own pocket to pay for rehabilitation services that would otherwise be covered by Medicare. My bill and a companion bill in the State House would require a hospital to notify patients of their outpatient status, the billing implications of the status, and the impact on their insurance coverage. Both the AARP and Pennsylvania Health Care Association have testified in support of the legislation.
As our population in Pennsylvania continues to age, issues related to protecting our seniors will require our increased attention. While these issues are front of mind for me, for many legislators, these are not topics that show up on the latest poll results or are a major topic of discussion when going door-to-door to speak with residents. That means seniors – and their families -- need to begin speaking out more and demanding action on the wide-ranging policy issues that impact our population over the age of 65.
Senator Bob Mensch represents the 24th Senate District of Pennsylvania, which includes portions of Berks, Bucks, and Montgomery, Counties.