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Ross unveils plan aimed at protecting older Arkansans, vows to preserve 'private option'

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Ross on Thursday proposed appointing a "chief seniors advocate" in his office and setting up a website to access services as part of a package aimed at helping older Arkansans.

The ex-congressman unveiled a "Seniors Bill of Rights" that he said he would push for if elected to the state's top office. Ross is running against Republican and fellow former Congressman Asa Hutchinson to succeed Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. Beebe is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

"These are real issues that affect seniors in this state and my administration is going to send a message loud and clear that we're going to have a seniors bill of rights," Ross told The Associated Press after unveiling the proposals during a speech in Hot Springs.

Ross said the adviser would be an existing staff position in the governor's office and would be the governor's chief liaison with agencies and organizations that deal with aging issues. Ross also proposed creating an "online portal" for seniors and adults with disabilities, and their caregivers, to connect with services.

Ross also used the proposals to restate his support for keeping the state's private option Medicaid expansion. Under the private option, Arkansas is using federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The program was created last year as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law and faces an uncertain future when it comes up for renewal by the Legislature next year.

Hutchinson has said as governor, he'd review the progress of the private option and whether the program is meeting it expectations before deciding whether to support its reauthorization. More than 176,000 people are currently enrolled in the program.

Hutchinson's campaign on Thursday dismissed Ross' proposals and criticized his record on helping seniors.

"There is very little new here, and it is more generalities and vague promises," Hutchinson spokesman Christian Olson said in an email.


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