AARP's Winners and Losers of the 2012 Idaho Legislative Session

Utility watchdog moves forward, Idaho to see first-ever plan to tackle Alzheimer's, but Idahoans struggling with high health care costs get no help

BOISE, Idaho, March 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With the 2012 Idaho state legislative session grinding to a close today, AARP Idaho unveiled its list of the "2012 Idaho Legislative Session Winners and Losers," highlighting the issues that helped and hurt state residents.

THE WINNERS

Consumers: In an effort to stop Idaho utility companies from cutting backroom deals to raise utility rates, the creation of a utility watchdog made an important step forward this session. The legislation (House Bill 699), sponsored by Rep. Brian Cronin (D-Boise), would establish a utility consumer advocate office to represent Idaho consumers in utility rate hike and other regulatory cases before the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, helping to level the playing field. Idaho is the only state in the West lacking a utility advocate office and one of only a handful in the nation. While the bill didn't get a hearing, having it printed is important progress as AARP Idaho will engage its members and the public across the state on the issue. Establishing a utility watchdog in Idaho remains a top priority for AARP. The measure finds strong support from the state's 50+ voters, with 68 percent saying they'd back it, according to 2012 AARP Idaho survey (http://bit.ly/wPuymH). 

State residents living with Alzheimer's disease: The number of Idahoans suffering from Alzheimer's disease would fill Bronco Stadium, and that number is set to increase rapidly.  The state has one of the highest death rates in the nation from the disease. Yet, until Governor C.L. "Butch" signed Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 112, the state had no plan of action to address and assess the issue. The resolution, called the "Alzheimer's Plan," identifies the disease and other dementias a state policy priority and sets in motion the development of a statewide plan to improve the spectrum of prevention, treatment and caregiver support. The AARP –backed resolution was co-sponsored by Senators Joyce Broadsword (R-Sagle), Dan Schmidt (D-Moscow) and Representatives Carlos Bilbao (R-Emmett), John Rusche (D-Nez Perce) and Fred Wood (R-Burley).

THE LOSERS:

Idahoans struggling with high health insurance costs: The idea of creating a state based health insurance marketplace had the backing of consumers, voters, businesses and advocate groups, yet legislation delivering the option to help Idahoans get a better deal on their health care never saw the light of day this session. The move, or lack thereof, comes at a time when over half of registered voters in the Gem State are reporting difficulty affording their health insurance, according to an AARP survey (http://bit.ly/wp5ABR). About 70 percent are worried about being able to pay for the health care services they think they'll need. The high cost of health care is hurting Idahoans. The survey went on to find that because of cost, 40 percent of those surveyed delayed seeing a doctor when not feeling well, while 22 percent delayed filling a prescription.  The idea for a marketplace showed strong support, with 77 percent of Republican voters behind the measure. 

State residents resorting to payday loans: As the credit crunch continues to mean tough times for many Idahoan households, it's meant booming business for the state's payday lenders. An increasing number of state residents are turning to the lenders for small loans, as the Gem State earns a failing grade for its lack of consumer protections in the industry. Idaho has also been cited for allowing "abusive" payday lending practices by the Consumer Federation. The bill that sought to put in place stronger consumer protections, House Bill 470, sponsored by Sen. Lee Heider (R-Twin Falls), and Rep. Elaine Smith (D-Pocatello), was blocked in committee. The legislation would have established a much needed 36 percent interest-rate cap on all payday loans in the state and require the lender to fully disclose the fees associated with the loans. Idaho is one of the least regulated states when it comes to payday lending and until the issue is addressed Idahoans will continue to be subjected to triple digit interest rates and no limits on terms, fees, costs or APR. 

AARP is Idaho's largest membership organization with 180,000 members.

Follow us on Twitter @AARPIdaho and Facebook: AARP Idaho

SOURCE AARP Idaho

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