The active age sent questionnaires to political candidates last month to get their views on issues affecting seniors. All the candidates were asked questions No. 1 and 2. Additionally, candidates for governor were asked question No. 3 parts a-g. Candidates for Sedgwick County Commission were asked No. 3 parts a-d and question No. 4.
Here are the questions and answers. Some answers have been edited for brevity.
What do you think are the two (or three) issues most critical to seniors, and what do you propose to do about them?
What in your background or record best qualifies you to represent seniors?
The most recent session of the Kansas Silver Haired Legislature passed several resolutions urging legislators to take the following actions related to seniors. Please answer with a “yes” or “no” whether you support these resolutions and feel free to explain why:
a.) Expand Medicaid in Kansas
Fund community-based transportation systems for seniors in Kansas
Grant a tax credit for property taxes paid by certain seniors in Kansas
Repeal city and county tax lids
Stop delaying KPERS employer contributions
Provide cost-of-living adjustments for certain retired members of KPERS
Create and fund a “grandparents as caregivers reimbursement fund”?
(Details about these resolutions can be found at Kansas-shl.org.)
Do you believe current county funding of senior centers is adequate and, if not, what would you do about it?
Laura Kelly, Democrat
1. The Brownback tax experiment decimated our state budget, leading to cuts to programs that seniors rely on the most, like KPERS and the Kansas Senior Care Act. As Governor, I will fully fund KPERS and the Senior Care Act, to ensure that our senior population is getting the help and care they need. Expanding Medicaid in Kansas is essential to ensure that more seniors are getting the healthcare coverage they need.
Property and sales taxes have gone up significantly. This disproportionately harms seniors. Once the state’s budget is stable, I will work with budget experts to reduce the sales tax on food and provide property tax relief.
2. I began my career helping as a recreation therapist helping children suffering from mental illness. For 18 years, I served as the Executive Director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association, working to make our communities better for our families and more attractive to businesses. As a state Senator, I’ve been a vocal advocate for K-12 public schools, healthcare, and a balanced tax structure where everyone pays their fair share.
3 a. Yes. It is critical so 150,000 additional Kansans can have access to quality, affordable healthcare. It is also important to our hospitals and clinics – especially in rural Kansas – and our economy.
Kris Kobach, Republican
1. Seniors are being priced out of their homes due to stealth property reappraisal hikes. In some areas, homeowners are seeing double-digit percent hikes on reappraisals every year. I propose capping property tax reappraisals at 2 percent annually. I also intend to end the culture of corruption in Topeka by pushing for term limits for all state officeholders and ending public benefits for illegal aliens.
2. When I first ran for Kansas Secretary of State in 2011, I campaigned on stopping voter fraud. I kept that promise, and Kansas now has the most secure elections in the nation. Seniors can be assured that when I am Governor, I will do what I say I’m going to do, and I will keep my promises.
3 a. No. It is fiscally irresponsible. In the 31 states that expanded Medicaid, costs exceeded estimates by 76 percent. As Governor, I will push for a direct primary care option for Kansas’s Medicaid program, allowing families unlimited access to their physician for as little as $50 per month.
b-g.) As governor, I will analyze these issues and determine the best course.
Greg Orman, Independent
1. My administration will focus on healthcare accessibility for seniors throughout state, especially in rural areas where so many hospitals are financially threatened. Hand in hand with the issue of accessibility will be the responsible expansion of Medicaid. Finally, as Governor I will veto anything that threatens Kansans‘ Medicare, including any potential healthcare compact legislation.
Our second priority as it relates to seniors is to grow the Kansas economy, so that we expand the tax base and are able to continue providing the support services necessary for seniors.
2. I think my most important quality is my willingness to listen to and value the input from Kansas seniors. I’ve sat down with representatives of the Silver Haired Legislature to hear their concerns. I’ve incorporated many of their recommendations into policy plans. I’m also the only candidate who has any real business experience and a plan to grow the Kansas economy.
3 a. Yes. We can expand Medicaid in a responsible way and ensure some level of patient participation in the costs as their incomes rise.
c. Clearly the Brownback tax plan was a mistake. When we get the state back on firm financial footing, we will look.
f. Right now, the KPERS pension plan is underfunded by $9 billion. Until we get our plan funding levels back up, we likely won’t be in a position to do regular COLAs.
Ron Estes, Republican
1. One of the biggest issues facing seniors today is the fiscal viability of their Social Security benefits. I do not support any cuts to Social Security for those currently receiving it or for those nearing retirement. Due to years of promising more benefits than were being collected, Social Security trust funds for retirement and disability will be depleted by 2034 if we do nothing. Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will be depleted by 2026.We must face this reality and reform the system for future generations.
Another important issue that is critical for seniors in Kansas is caring for our veterans. While in Congress, I have supported legislation to fire VA officials who do not have veterans’ best interest at heart and to increase veterans’ access to top health care providers. I also supported the VA MISSION Act. Under the law, veterans will have more options for care at the VA or a community provider best suited for their needs.
2. As Kansas State Treasurer, I fought to reform the Kansas Public Employees’ Retirement System (KPERS) to ensure that the benefits promised will be available for those employees when they retire. I was also actively engaged in addressing and improving retirement security issues involving savings programs and increasing availability and options for workers to set more dollars aside to prepare for retirement.
James Thompson, Democrat
1. The three most important issues facing Kansas’ senior citizens are Social Security, Medicare and drug pricing. In order to protect and maintain Social Security, we must first increase the Social Security tax cap so that everyone pays their fair share into the fund. Secondly, we must attach the Cost of Living Adjustments to an index that responds more to inflationary movements in our economy. Simplifying Medicare is necessary to help our seniors more easily access healthcare. Medicare should be available to all, not just our seniors. Allowing Medicare to openly compete against private insurers will increase benefits and reduce prices for everyone, including older Americans. The final issue facing our seniors is drug pricing. We must repeal the law preventing Medicare from negotiating drug prices and pass legislation that makes gouging the prices of medical devices and prescription drugs illegal.
2. I am a civil rights attorney. My entire adult life, from the military to practicing law, revolves around protecting those who are least able to protect themselves. I have handled numerous cases involving protecting our elderly from abuse at the hands of dishonest family members, unethical insurance agents, and despicable neighbors. I will continue that same advocacy for seniors when I get to Congress by ensuring that the programs they depend on are protected and that their dignity is assured.
Renee Duxler, Democrat, District 1
1. I think access to affordable healthcare, transportation and housing are the three biggest challenges for seniors in Sedgwick County. I want to make sure we’re partnering with local health centers and non-profits to provide access and opportunity. I also know that isolation and a decrease in mobility can have adverse health effects on seniors, and so I want to continue to ensure funding is available for the activities and services provided through our senior centers.
2. I have been a social worker in this community for more than 15 years and have worked with senior citizens and their families in a number of capacities throughout my career. I also have been in administration with several non-profits and so I understand fiscal responsibility and being a good steward of taxpayer dollars. I believe that investing in the human capital of our communities is the best benefit to everyone in Sedgwick County.
3 a. Yes
4. Senior centers, especially those located in less dense population areas, help not only with quality of life, but also improve health outcomes for our senior residents. I believe they could be funded better, and we need to specifically reward those centers that are performing well.
Pete Meitzner, Republican, District 1
1. Make sure that seniors and senior centers have adequate support. Local, tax-funded community services should be appropriately funded and prioritized. Need to assure funding is appropriate for nutrition programs and in-home care (or case management) to allow seniors to stay in their homes, if they so choose.
2. I have seven years of public service on the Wichita City Council. And, more importantly, I have a long history of non-profit involvement. I currently serve on The Lord’s Diner advisory board and the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation board. I plan to use that community service background to represent county seniors and their issues.
3 a. In general, I am ok with Medicaid expansion. Or, we need to find a solution and way to assist over 150,000 citizens who are not insured today.
b. I plan to look into Sedgwick County being a part of serving all citizens, including seniors, with expanded transportation options.
c. I am generally in favor of tax credits for certain seniors if it helps keep them living well, and offsets other more expensive options.
4. I understand the funding formula for senior centers is to be re-evaluated and re-considered. I look forward to the analysis for future consideration.
Lacey Cruse, Democrat, District 4
1. Navigating the maze of senior living and in-home senior care. For the past 12 years as a senior advocate, the
number one issue people mention is lack of socialization and caregiver stress/burn out. As a county commissioner, it will be my mission to bring back the funding cuts approved by the current commissioner and increase awareness to seniors about how to easily understand and access services through already available resources.
2. My first professional job right out of college was marketing and advertising for EarCare Hearing Aid centers. I left EarCare for a marketing opportunity with Legend Senior Living where I had an opportunity to open six long-term care properties in three different states. I left Legend Senior Living to work for a company based out of Baltimore. We rebranded a senior living healthcare company with 72 long-term care properties in 17 states. I now work for Kindred Hospice.
3 a. Yes
c. I will consider all policy and tax reform that will adversely affect seniors
d. At this time, I think I would need to get more info from the taxpayers.
4. I do not think the level of funding is adequate. I think the current funding tiers for how senior centers are funding needs to be updated.
Richard Ranzau, Republican,
1. Many seniors simply cannot afford more property tax increases. That is why I do not support repeal of the property tax lid. Why would we want to raise property taxes on seniors?
2. Working as a physician assistant and having lived with my grandparents, my life experiences have taught me that most seniors desire to live independently for as long as possible and that they often struggle on fixed incomes. They find a way to live within their means and expect government to do the same.
3 a. No. Expanding Medicaid to include able- bodied citizens would require significant cuts to existing programs or large tax increases.
b. I would need more details be fore I can make an informed decision.
c. How would we determine who would get the credit and how would we pay for it?
4. Senior centers are very import ant but they already get 49 percent of the property tax f unded community services even though there are 14 other programs that have a higher priority.
Jim Howell, Republican, District 5
1. Many seniors are choosing to retire later in life, have more health issues, have less-than-adequate income, and have little-to-no family in the area to assist them. And even though the senior population is growing, the county fails to fund the community senior centers adequately. The first thing I want to do is properly fund the senior centers.
2. Over the last several years, members of my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s and dementia, they have been in assisted living and nursing home settings, and one suffered from extreme poverty and isolation. None of those situations were ideal but we did the best we could and I gained much perspective.
3 a. No. There is a misconception that Medicaid expansion brings more dollars to the 12 populations already being served by KanCare (Medicaid). This is simply not true.
d. No. This property tax cap simply eliminates unchecked rapid property tax growth and empowers the electorate over the elected officials when they want to expand the size and scope of government faster than the economy itself.
4. The current senior center funding levels are inadequate. The county should increase funding to those senior centers that are delivering services in accordance with the performance measure agreement that was negotiated around 2005.
Jim Skelton, Independent, District 5
1. Access to high quality healthcare, transportation and housing. As commissioner, I will work with other commissioners to adopt expanded Medicaid as part of Sedgwick County’s legislative agenda.
Transportation to senior centers and other functions is necessary for social interaction. Trips to the doctor’s office keep those who need transportation healthy. I believe in funding non-profits or other government assistance that achieves this goal.
2. I am a 10-year veteran with service on both the Wichita City Council and the Sedgwick County Commission. I will provide balanced, honest and reasonable decision making. Among other candidates I am the most familiar with both governmental agencies and have a good relationship with the community and other regional elected officials.
3 a. Yes
4. Currently, there is not adequate funding for senior centers. If a senior center qualifies for additional funding for services they provide, they should receive it. I will prioritize spending and will not allocate money for things like gun lockers at the county building. I will invest in senior centers, which are a priority.