13 legislative candidates grilled on care for seniors

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Thirteen Southwest Washington legislative candidates clarified their stances on issues affecting seniors during a "Silver Tsunami" forum Tuesday at Clark Public Utilities.

The two-hour forum, organized by area agencies on aging and senior lobby groups, drew an audience of about 125, mostly seniors. Candidates were allowed to answer two of five questions posed by moderator Dana Baker, assistant professor of political science at Washington State University Vancouver.

Questions were geared toward the organizers' agenda of preserving the AARP ranking of the state's long-term care program as the second-best at a low cost among 30 states.

Candidates showed bipartisan consensus on: continued support for unpaid family caregivers; emphasis on lower-cost in-home care for the elderly; continuing to pay contractual public employee pensions; and eliminating the business and occupation tax, a tax on businesses' gross receipts.

Some candidates differed, however, on other issues.

Democrats said they support expanding Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of federal poverty level. Those speaking in favor were Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, 49th District Position 2; Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, 19th District Position 1; Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, 49th District Position 1; Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, 49th District Senate candidate; Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, 17th District Position 1 House candidate; and David Shehorn, D-Vancouver, 18th District Position 2 House candidate.

"This (expansion) is really important for people under the age to receive Medicare but not working right now," said Moeller. "This is going to fill that gap until people are eligible for Medicare (at age 65)."

Moeller's challenger, Carolyn Crain, R-Vancouver, said she doesn't agree with expanding eligibility and opposes the federal government's interference in the state Medicaid systems that have already been established.

Debbie Peterson, R-Vancouver, 49th District Position 1 House candidate, said she supports rationing of Medicaid benefits through a voucher system, rather than a blanket eligibility increase, which she said would ramp up costs.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, running to keep her appointed post, said she fears the state doesn't have enough doctors and other infrastructure to expand Medicaid.

People ages 60 and older are projected to be a quarter of Clark County's population by 2025.