Programs that affect Colorado senior citizens continue to be targeted for reductions and in some cases elimination. While the message has been "everyone needs to share in the cuts", seniors have been shared in this burden. Cuts have directly affected health care and monthly income.
The most significant cut has been the elimination of the senior property tax exemption which has been estimated to save the State of Colorado about $200 million for 2009 and 2010.
Other cuts, while not so drastic have had major effect on seniors. The Medicaid reimbursement rates have been reduced 4.5% since July 1, 2009, while caseloads are being projected to increase 45% according to the governor’s office. The most recent nursing home reimbursement reduction resulted in a $24,000,000 cut. As most people know these reductions in reimbursement usually result in lower quality of care and increased private pay rates, forcing individuals to go on Medicaid sooner.
The 2010 budget projections provided for a $6.1 million increase in grants for Old Age Pensioners. However, since there was not a cost of living increase in Social Security, the grant increase for Old Age Pensioners was not awarded.
Other cuts included closure of a thirty-two bed nursing facility in Grand Junction saving the state $1.3 million in general fund by moving medically fragile individuals to community nursing facilities. Similarly, the geriatric unit at Fort Logan Mental Health Institute was closed resulting in a $3.1 million savings, but not all of those savings effected seniors.
Last summer, Old Age Pensioners also lost access to more than $500,000 in dental services through budget cuts. Likewise, the Older Coloradoans Act was cut by $1 million, although stimulus funds were used to replace that cut.
Other reductions that effect seniors include: $1.7 million in pharmacy reimbursements; a cut of $650,000 in general fund by adding more drugs to the preferred drug list requiring more prior reauthorizations. Another program that is used by seniors is the Colorado Indigent Care Program. Cuts in this program resulted in another $50 million reduction.
A program which was proposed, but not passed was to cut $22 out of grants to Old Age Pensioners who are legal immigrants by forcing sponsors to be responsible for financial and health care costs. Similarly, the legislature decided not to pass a $2.8 million cut to health care providers who serve Old Age Pensioners. Although to date, no cuts have been proposed, the legislature may consider cuts to the senior services program which funds the Older Coloradoans Act. Overall in 2009 and 2010, Colorado is facing a $3.5 billion shortfall in the State budget. Seniors have shouldered more than $33 million in direct cuts in 2009 and 2010 budget years.
The combined business exemptions that were rescinded by the legislature are expected to only save the state $15.6 million the budget year ending June 30, 2010. While tax exemptions for businesses are expected to save $102.3 million for the 2010-11 fiscal years, seniors are being asked through the loss of the property tax exemption only for the same year to forego $100 million.
Advocates for senior citizens have worked for many years to improve the quality of life; however, seniors have shouldered much of the burden as a group for Colorado’s current budget crises. Individuals who want to become involved in these advocacy efforts to maintain benefits for seniors are encouraged to contact their legislator. For more information, call 303-333-3482.