With an aging population, ensuring that senior Vermonters are able to live healthy, independent lives is certainly a legislative priority. This session, many bills included provisions specifically designed to assist seniors with healthcare, community services, and financial stability. Below are a few highlights.
Community Services. My first budget priority was ensuring that our local designated mental health, disability service agencies, and home health service agencies like Addison County Home Health and Hospice received an increase in state funding. We were able to provide an 8%, or $26.6 million, increase in funding to these crucial community service providers statewide. This funding has enabled these agencies to increase salaries and shore-up services to enable more seniors to remain in their homes. In addition, we provided $1.5 million to adult day care programs, including Elderly Services in Middlebury, to help them continue to recover from pandemic closures and disruption.
Fair Taxation. The increase in state revenues during the pandemic allowed us to provide $40 million in targeted tax relief to Vermonters who need it the most, including seniors and retirees. The package enhances the financial stability of seniors and vulnerable adults with a more generous Social Security tax exemption for retired Vermonters, added military and federal employee retirement tax exemptions, increased support for vulnerable seniors, blind, and disabled Vermonters, and an expanded tax credit for families with eligible vulnerable adult or eldercare expenses.
Care and Support for People with Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2020, an estimated 13,000 Vermonters aged 65 and older were living with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia, a figure that’s expected to grow by 30% by 2025. In addition, in 2020, 25,000 Vermonters were caring for people living with Alzheimer’s, most of them unpaid family members, totaling about 36 million unpaid hours of care with a value of $717 million. This session, I championed S.206/Act 113 that expands support, planning, and services for people with this devastating disease and those who care for them.
Access to Medicare. Applying for appropriate Medicare coverage can be confusing and frustrating for seniors, particularly as private insurance companies have capitalized on providing alternative or supplemental Medicare programs. To better assist and protect seniors with sorting out options, we passed Act 99/S.239 which requires the Department of Financial Regulation to collaborate with health insurers, advocates for older Vermonters and other Medicare-eligible adults, and the Office of the Health Care Advocate to educate the public about the benefits and limitations of Medicare supplemental insurance policies and Medicare Advantage plans. It also directs the Department to convene a group of interested stakeholders to consider issues relating to Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare supplemental coverage and to report to the legislature with recommendations for improvements by January 15, 2023.
Medical Aid in Dying. In 2013, the Vermont Legislature took the historic step of being the first legislative body in the country to pass a bill to permit people diagnosed with a terminal illness to request regulated medical assistance to hasten their own death. Since then, approximately 120 Vermonters with a terminal illness, most of them seniors, have taken advantage of the law. This session, we passed S.74/Act 97 to update the law to permit clinically-appropriate telehealth access, improve liability concerns, and ease end-stage barriers to accessing medication.