GUEST COLUMN

Too busy to meet Maine people?

Posted May 05, 2011, at 8:51 p.m.

After five attempts at getting a meeting with our new governor, I was very disappointed to learn recently from his scheduler that he is “unable to offer an opportunity to have some of AARP’s members meet with the governor.” He would “appreciate your understanding in that it is difficult to grant all the requests for meetings received by the governor.”

Having worked in the past for Gov. Joe Brennan and again in the State House with Gov. Angus King, I know how busy our chief executive can be. However, in all my years of public service to the state of Maine and for several nonprofits, I never heard of a governor who wouldn’t adjust his schedule at some point to meet with his constituents.

Also, I was confused because I have read recently that the governor has not had enough to do and wants to get to work. Given the fact that he recently had a vacation, and time to visit around the state with his “Capitol for a Day,” I am deeply disappointed that he could not find the time to meet with some of our volunteers and members.

Perhaps he would have learned why we are opposing one part of his budget that cuts services to as many as 48,000 low-income seniors under the Medicare Savings Program, or MSP. The program provides access to preventive care, outpatient and physician services under Part B as well as access to affordable prescription drugs under Part D of the Medicare program.

In 2007, both Republicans and Democrats voted to use tobacco settlement funding ($14 million) to draw down the federal matching funds ($30 million) to make sure that low-income seniors would have these premiums paid. That would ensure that our elderly work with their doctors to make sure they stay on top of their health care needs and prevent serious illness and more costly health care in the future.

This group of people is all over age 65 and has no other options available to them to pursue. They are unlikely to find work that will provide them with health care benefits; in fact, they are unlikely to find even part-time work.

Maybe the governor would be surprised to learn that these elderly, living on an annual income of $14,500 do not have much left over every month to pay the extra $120 a month for premium coverage as well as additional out-of-pocket expenses, co-pays and deductibles. Undoubtedly, he would agree with us that these elderly would “go without” visiting their doctor, go without preventive care and go without their prescription drugs in order to pay for housing, food, heat and gasoline.

Maybe he would have learned that the biggest part of our rising state Medicaid costs go for long-term care and the biggest part of that spending goes to residential and nursing home care in spite of the fact that over 90 percent of seniors say they want that care to be in their homes and communities for as long as possible. Certainly keeping low-income seniors healthy, and on top of their chronic health diseases, was a better policy decision than waiting for them to need nursing home care or hospital care, which was the decision those bipartisan legislators made only four years ago!

Maybe he would have learned that AARP is a nonprofit that receives no state or public funding at all and that we are dedicated to enhancing the life of all as we age through advocacy, education and service. AARP just finished up its volunteer Tax Aide program where hundreds of our members are trained and certified by the IRS to prepare and submit tax preparations for almost 18,000 Mainers at no cost to them. We also train hundreds of older drivers how to stay sharp behind the wheel with our Driver Safety Program. Again, volunteers from across the state hold trainings on driver safety in local communities, and participants can then get a discount on their car insurance as well. Our members also volunteer for Senior Medicare Patrol, Long Term Care Ombudsman Program and many other programs that help our citizens, no matter what their age.

Maybe he would have learned that AARP has almost 230,000 members in Maine who are active and invested in keeping Maine the place where we all want to live and retire. Maybe he would have met some great folks who remember when Maine’s elected officials made time for them to meet and talk.

Nancy Kelleher is the state director of AARP in Maine.

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