By Matt Young, WV Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Legislature’s House Committee on Senior, Children, and Family Issues convened Thursday for its first meeting of the 2023 Legislative Session.
Appearing before the committee were AARP West Virginia State Director Gaylene Miller and State President Jane Marks.
“It’s good to see familiar faces in person, and I look forward to getting to know the new faces that I see here today,” Marks told the committee. “For the past two years we were at home watching and listening, and doing our work with you virtually due to COVID-19. Thus, we felt that today it would be good to reintroduce ourselves to let you know just who we are, what we do, and how we do it.”
Marks explained that AARP is the nation’s “largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization – with offices in every state, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
“We have nearly 38 million members across the country, and more than a quarter-of-a-million members right here in West Virginia,” Marks noted, before adding that AARP’s in-state volunteer-team numbers approximately 150,000 people.
According to Marks, these volunteers work closely with the State’s Legislature to advance AARP’s priorities, as well as to serve as “a resource” for lawmakers.
“Our members come from all walks of life across the political and cultural spectrum,” Marks said. “We are a social-mission organization, and our focus is on the issues that are important to those who are age 50-plus, and to their families – with an emphasis on health security, financial security, and personal fulfillment.”
“Our mission is quite simple – it is simply to empower people to live as they choose, as they age,” Marks added, “while ensuring that they have the necessary support, services, and opportunities to do so.”
Marks cited AARP’s consistent support of those serving as family caregivers as “one of the things that make me so loyal,” saying, “there are 48 million family caregivers across the country. It is an exhausting and challenging task. Support, resources, and information is crucial.”
Marks also praised the AARP’s support of veterans and their families, adding, “Once again, our programs and resources are outstanding.”
Miller then addressed the committee, saying, “As you can see, my volunteer State President (Marks) is a hard act to follow. Jane Marks does a great job for us.”
“As Jane mentioned, AARP is working on behalf of all West Virginias who are 50-plus, and their families,” Miller continued. “And our state legislative priorities in 2023 are focused on lowering prescription drug costs, supporting family caregivers, retaining and growing our direct care workforce, protecting older West Virginians against fraud and financial exploitation, and improving retirement security.”
Miller explained that AARP’s 2023 policy platform was developed after surveying the needs and concerns of their members, noting that, “80% ranked support of family caregivers and efforts to improve access and availability of care at home as the number-one priority that AARP should focus on during our time at the Capitol this session.”
“As West Virginia’s population ages, its direct care workforce and the long-term care systems of support are struggling to meet the demands created by workforce shortages in long-term care,” Miller added.
Miller again cited battling the exorbitant cost of prescription medications among AARP’s priorities, explaining that, “Even the best drugs in the world won’t work when people can’t afford to take them.”
Miller then spoke specifically of the estimated 240,000 West Virginians diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, resulting in the more than $2.5 billion of medical costs incurred annually by residents of the state.
“Nearly 70% of our survey respondents want lawmakers to take action to lower the cost of insulin, and other prescription drugs during this year’s session,” Miller said. “AARP West Virginia will advocate for solutions to lower drug prices.”
Miller advised the committee that AARP supports legislation reducing the cap for Medicare and Medicaid insulin copays from $100 to $35 for a 30-day supply, as well as codifying insurance coverage for insulin devices. According to Miller, “a similar bill” was passed by both chambers during the 2022 legislative session, however noting, “Unfortunately, it did not complete the legislative process.”
“We are hopeful that the legislature will, again, consider this important and potentially lifesaving legislation,” Marks added.