Sen. Giessel cross-sponsors HB 96, subsidizing Alaska Pioneer Home rates


Senate President Cathy Giessel of Anchorage is the lone Republican senator to sign as a cosponsor of a bill lowering the rates at the Alaska Pioneer Homes.

House Bill 96 would put the retirement home rates in statute, rather than allowing the State to establish rates via regulation.

The Alaska Pioneers Homes, with about 500 residents in all, are unique to Alaska. They began in 1913 with the original site in Sitka established for indigent elderly miners and loggers. The home was a converted U.S. Marine Corps barrack.

In the mid-1950s, women and Alaska Natives became eligible for admission. During Alaska’s oil boom, another five homes were built around the state. Meanwhile, Natives generally seek elder care at Native-owned facilities, and costs of caring for the elderly rose.

Alaska’s Pioneer Homes are some of the least expensive elder-care facilities in the nation, heavily subsidized by the State of Alaska for a small clientele of often-well-to-do Alaskans whose offspring object to the rate increase; they don’t want to lose their anticipated inheritance to the care facilities to pay for the care of their elderly parents. The Anchorage home is where former Gov. Wally Hickel breathed his final breath, cared for in the memory care unit.

The average age of residents at the Pioneer Homes is 87 and more than 58 percent of them require higher levels of care. More and more are asking to be admitted to the memory care “neighborhoods” for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Sen. Giessel’s mother is a resident of one of the Pioneer Homes, an apparent conflict of interest, although not illegal.

In Fiscal Year 2019, Alaska subsidized Pioneer Home residents with $34,592,000 in state funds.

Sponsored by Anchorage Democrat Rep. Zack Fields, House Bill 96 passed the House, 35-4 in May and will be heard next in the Senate Health and Social Services Committee on Wednesday at 1:30 pm.

The new law would prohibit the state from charging for the actual cost of caring for the homes’ residents and instead would establish, in statute, the following rates:

  • $2,976 a month for housing, meals, emergency assistance, and recreation
  • $5,396 a month for housing, meals, emergency assistance, medication administration, health-related services, recreation, and intermittent assistance with activities of daily living.
  • $7,814 a month for the provision of housing, meals, emergency 29 assistance, medication administration, health-related services, recreation, and extensive assistance with activities of daily living;
  • $8,500 a month for the provision of housing, meals, emergency 01 assistance, medication administration, medication management, health-related services, recreation, assistance with activities of daily living and nursing services for 24 hours a day, and intermittent behavior management.

HB 96 not only rolls back the rate structure, it provides for what is called “reasonable and regular rate increases” based on Social Security cost-of-living schedules. The cost-of-living rate set by Social Security was one third of one percent in 2017.

The state Pioneer Home Assistance Program has $25 million in it to assist those who cannot afford the new rates. In the past, the residents have covered about 44 percent of the cost of their care, with state funds picking up the rest.

Giessel joined Senators Scott Kawasaki, Bill Wielechowski, Donny Olson, Tom Begich, Elvi Gray-Jackson, and Jessie Kiehl as cross sponsors.

In November, a pair of attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Dunleavy Administration over the rate increases. Vance Sanders and Libby Bakalar have asked the courts to stop the rate increases, and they are asking that the State pay their legal fees associated with the case, which they are requesting to be accepted by the court as a class-action lawsuit.


  1. Another bizarre hit piece. Why don’t you mention that Laddie Shaw (R-Anchorage) also sponsors the bill or that 18 Republicans in the House voted for it and only four voted against it?

    Republican Yes votes on HB 96:

    Laddie Shaw
    Sharon Jackson
    Lance Pruitt
    Sara Rasmussen
    George Rauscher
    Josh Revak
    Colleen Sullivan-Leonard
    Dave Talerico
    Steve Thompson
    Cathy Tilton
    Tammie Wilson
    Kelly Merrick
    Gabrielle LeDoux
    Bart LeBon
    Chuck Kopp
    Jennifer Johnston
    Gary Knopp
    Louise Stutes

    Republican No votes:

    David Eastman
    Ben Carpenter
    Mark Neuman
    Sarah Vance

      • Dog…..all of the above names probably have parents in the Pioneer Home, as Giessel does. They all want their inheritances now.

        • Happy to chew provided that a fair and balanced story is written, but this copy is another example of MRAs tendency to throw red meat out there, for people who spend too much time on this site to devour and rage away at. You are being played.

          • Dog……please. MRAK is fact-driven. Suzanne reports, we decide. No hidden agenda. Let Giessel defend herself, if she can. btw, I’m vegan.

  2. How ironic. Sen. Giessel wants to put the rates charged, along with the increases, into statuate, while ignoring the statute about the payout for the PFD… Do as I say, not as I do.

  3. Conflict of Interest. Potential ethics violation. Senator Cathy Bohms Giessel has an elderly mother in the Pioneer Home who is enrolled in a high level of care classification. This can be easily fact-checked. By cross-sponsoring this bill, Senator Giessel has a potential huge benefit to be given to her, that is, a considerable savings to herself in the form of unpaid services to her mother who otherwise would not pay the amount required for her care. Giessel is exposing herself with sponsorship of this bill, and showing everyone why she oppose Dunleavy’s budget. It’s personal for her. Giessel wants government to pay her personal bills.

  4. That’s fine, but then cut expenses someplace else in an equal amount so there is at least not an increase in the state budget. That’s how I run my home budget. That’s how the state should do as well. We have to set the priority of where we will spend available funds instead of always increasing the budget. But my guess is she is not thinking in those terms.

  5. Facts:

    Laddie Shaw (R-Anchorage) is a co-sponsor of HB 96.

    18 out of the 23 House Republicans voted for HB 96 last year.

  6. When Governor Dunleavy signs this bill later this, Suzanne will praise him as the savior of the Pioneer Homes.

  7. Excellent article. But a few more things need to be said. The “wait list” to get into the Pioneer Homes facility is quite long. Many who wait to get in, do not get in. Also, an anticipated inheritance loss is not the only thing on the mind of children of elderly parents who become residents of the Pioneer Home. There is the real possibility that the child will pay out-of-pocket from their own savings to help their elderly parent pay the rent. If Senator Giessel’s mother is in advanced care at the facility (Level 4), and if Senator Giessel has power of attorney over her mother’s care, then Senator Giessel has a personal interest in not wanting to personally pay the newly proposed Dunleavy rate for care. This puts Senator Giessel into precarious territory. She’s willing to have the State help pay the bills for her mother, but unwilling to allow Alaskans to have their statutory full PFD. Mandated social welfare to help her v. cutting the rights of Alaskans to garner full payment of their dividend. I would say that Senator Giessel’s sponsorship of this bill compromises her position as Senate President, and her ability to lead effectively.

    • Your theory is not quite correct. Once the patients estate is exhausted to a minimum, the patient becomes eligible for Medicaid which pays 100% of the cost. If there is a joint estate with a spouse, that spouse is allowed to retain certain assets including their home. It would be unlikely that the children would be on the hook except for whatever future inheritance they would hope to preserve.

      My father’s estate paid $6,800/month cash to pay for his Pioneer Home residence and care (which in truth the real cost is above that and a “subsidy” by the State). So if the Pioneer Home reduces your Dividend by $1.00, would you be fore or against the subsidy?

    • A Pioneer Home for mom. Giessel needs to check her own conscience before trying to legislate our money for her mom’s care.

  8. I have friends in the Pioneer Home and know of other friends whose family members are residents. With all due respect to them, this is another enterprise that the state has no business being in.

    • This is a necessary story and Suzanne needs to be commended for putting it out there. We all want the best care for dear old Mom, without it ruining the piggy bank. But mandated rates through statute is wrong. Costs should be regulated by market forces with the State stepping in with loans for residential care secured in part by fully-funded PFDs. I understand Giessel is a nurse practitioner by training. Compassion begins with personal family involvement, not by slapping the burden on the State in which to care for loved ones at everyone else’s expense. Compassion should be measured in personal involvement for Mom’s care, not in subsidies under the law.

  9. Folks, many of the people in the Pioneer home have more than enough money to pay for their stay. They would in any other state. The Pioneer Home should be based on need not just being a resident. Just exactly how do all of you wish to pay for this, ferry system, Medicaid, et? Oh tax me but only if you live in a borough that collects taxes unlike our rural and bush communities who get it all free.

  10. Pioneers Homes are nothing more than state run assisted living facilities that crowd out privately run facilities while costing Alaska residents heavily.

    These facilities aren’t even limited to actual pioneers or long term Alaska residents.

    If we’re in the mood for making changes we should privatize these facilities and get the state out of the business of providing long term care.

    How many real Alaskans want to sacrifice their PFD or pay an income tax to subsidize the housing and long term care for people who may have lived in Alaska for as little as one year?

    It’s time to end these non-essential government programs and services and to cut the state budget.

    Sec. 47.55.020. Admission to home; payments; assistance.
    (a) Every person residing in the state who is 65 years of age or older, has been a resident of the state continuously for more than one year immediately preceding application for admission, and is in need of residence at a home because of physical disability or other reason, is eligible for admission to the Alaska Pioneers’ Home or the Alaska Veterans’ Home under conditions prescribed in regulations. The spouse of a person who is eligible for admission under other provisions of this subsection is also eligible for admission to a home under conditions prescribed by the department if the spouse is 65 years of age or older and has been a resident of the state continuously for more than one year immediately preceding application for admission.

  11. The fiscal irresponsibility of the Legislature is a sign that the state is in real trouble with little hope of making rational decisions. What a swamp we have here in our own state!

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