LITTLE ROCK — Democratic candidate for governor Mike Ross on Thursday unveiled a “Senior Bill of Rights,” a list of seven priorities he said he would pursue as governor to protect the rights of Arkansas seniors.
“The seven priorities outlined in my Seniors Bill of Rights will focus my administration’s work empowering seniors to live longer, healthier and more independent lives and on improving long-term care services in the state,” Ross, a former 4th District congressman, said in a statement.
The list includes:
—The right to affordable health insurance. Ross said he would protect Medicaid, especially the so-called private option, which uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for low-income Arkansans.
—The right to be heard. Ross said he would designate a chief seniors advocate in the governor’s office who would serve as the key adviser on senior issues and would be the main liaison between the governor’s office and state agencies and organizations that deal with aging issues.
—The right to equal opportunities in the workplace. Ross said he would work to raise awareness about age discrimination in the workplace and encourage the hiring of older Arkansans.
—The right to food security. Ross said he would work with state and federal agencies, legislators and nonprofit organizations to reduce senior hunger in Arkansas. He said about 40 percent of Arkansans aged 60 or older are living with food insecurity, the highest percentage in the nation.
—The right to accessibility. Ross said he would create an online portal for seniors and adults with disabilities and the caregivers that support them. The portal would be an easily accessible “one-stop online shop” for all senior-related issues and services in the state, he said.
—The right to be free from exploitation. Ross said he would work with the attorney general to support and find ways to strengthen Arkansas’s efforts to educate and protect seniors against identify theft and scams.
—The right to quality long-term services and independent choices. Ross said he would work to improve long-term care services for seniors and better empower them to make their own retirement and long-term care decisions. He said the AARP recently ranked Arkansas 40th in the nation for long-term services and support for older people, adults with disabilities and family caregivers.
Ross also took a jab Thursday at his Republican opponent, former 3rd District Congressman Asa Hutchinson.
“Throughout my time in public service, I have consistently stood up for Arkansas’ seniors, including fighting against attempts by those in Congress to privatize Social Security and Medicare,” Ross said. “My opponent, Congressman Hutchinson, supports privatizing Social Security and has voted against increased investments that support the elderly. It’s just more proof that Congressman Hutchinson is out of touch with families and seniors in Arkansas.”
Hutchinson spokesman Christian Olson responded Thursday, “There is very little new here and it is more generalities and vague promises. If Mike Ross truly cared about Arkansas’s seniors, why did he vote for President (Barack) Obama’s original health care takeover? He voted for cuts to Medicare, a public option, an individual mandate, an employer mandate and health care exchanges, all of which Arkansans strongly opposed.”
Olson was referring to an early bill on health care reform that Ross voted for in committee in 2009. That bill never came up for a vote in the House, and Ross later voted against the health care bill that became law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Ross and Hutchinson will face Green Party candidate Joshua Drake and Libertarian candidate Frank Gilbert in the Nov. 4 election.