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Plan to raise Pioneer Home rates moves forward

The Anchorage Pioneer Home in Anchorage, Alaska, is shown Tuesday, March 5, 2019. State officials are proposing rate increases of between 40 percent and nearly 140 percent for residents of Alaska's state-supported elder-care facilities, according to health department documents released ahead of a Tuesday legislative hearing. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

JUNEAU - Alaska officials are moving ahead with a proposal that would significantly raise rates at state-supported elder-care facilities, while a bill in the state House seeks to moderate what the state can charge.

Clinton Lasley, director of the division overseeing Pioneer Homes, recently told a House committee the state would continue with the regulatory process and a plan that seeks to raise rates between 40% and nearly 140% if the bill does not pass.

Lasley has said the Department of Health and Social Services can adjust rates without legislative approval. State officials have said the state's proposal is an attempt to bring rates in line with the cost to provide services.

The department is taking comments on its proposal. After the public comment period ends, the department could adopt changes or take no action.

The state proposal would add two tiers to an existing three-tier program based on level of services and care.

The current, lowest-cost option, including housing, food, emergency help and events, costs $2,588 per month. It would rise to $3,623 monthly under the proposal.

The highest current level of care costs $6,795 per month. Under the state proposal, the most comprehensive level would cost $15,000 per month, though Lasley has said Pioneer Homes typically don't have many residents who would fall under that proposed new tier.

He said he saw that tier as filling a need in the community for such care and serving individuals with complex behaviors, such as combativeness or tendencies toward self-harm or wandering.

Under the state proposal, tiers in between, which range from limited assistance to 24-hour services, would range from $6,569 to $13,333 per month. The current middle tier costs $4,692 monthly.

Rep. Zack Fields, an Anchorage Democrat, is sponsoring the House bill that he said is intended to prevent the state's proposed rate increases from taking effect.

He said rates have failed to keep up with inflation, so his bill would raise rates to take into account inflation since 2004 and limit how much rates can be increased in future years.

The bill lays out monthly rates ranging from $3,100 to $10,000 over four levels of care. It would let the department set the monthly rate for the most comprehensive tier at a level it considers sufficient to compensate the state for that level of care.

Fields said his bill "provides stability and predictability for residents while still adding revenue and providing that certainty for the department."

Clinton Bennett, a spokesman for the state health department, said by email that the department does not support Fields’ bill.

Lawmakers are hoping to complete their work this session by mid-May.

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