Seniors protest in gowns

Rep. Steve Ultrino points to a pair of false buttocks worn by a senior activist at a Statehouse rally Monday. "We should stop kicking seniors 'here,' " Ultrino said.

BOSTON — Senior activists clad in hospital gowns crowded the Statehouse steps Monday and parted their johnnies to expose false rubber buttocks — in the hopes of drawing attention to a "gap" in health care assistance for low-income seniors.

The Massachusetts Senior Action Council organized the rally to push for expanding eligibility for the Medicare Savings Program, which helps seniors pay Medicare premiums and other expenses.

Like many other interest groups in Massachusetts, they're looking to compete for a slice of the American Rescue Plan Act pie. Saying it would be vital for thousands of Bay Staters, Elaine Eccoiro, 85, encouraged lawmakers to use ARPA funds to cover the cost of expanding the program's eligibility to 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

"The American Rescue Plan can be a lifeline for 50,000 seniors, if the Legislature uses it," Eccoiro said.

The group is lobbying for $17 million of the state's $5.3 billion ARPA haul (with about $4.9 billion remaining) to be directed to the expansion. Lawmakers plan to hear testimony at 11 a.m. Tuesday on uses for the state's ARPA allocation in the areas of health care, mental health, substance use disorder, public health, and human services.

Joining the seniors Monday were Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Rep. Steven Ultrino, sponsors of standalone legislation dealing with Medicare Savings Program eligibility. Those two bills are set for a hearing before the Health Care Financing Committee on Sept. 28.

"We're seeking any avenue we can to get to these next two levels of 200 percent," Ultrino told the News Service. "And for those people who say it would cost too much money, it doesn't," the Malden Democrat told the crowd at the rally. "For $20 million of investment, $130 million comes from the feds. So we are turning away $130 million. Not only is it the moral thing to do, not only is it the right thing to do, but it will continue to boost the economy. Because I know seniors do not have Swiss bank accounts. So whatever they save is going back into the local economy."

As the senior activists turned around to flash their rubber rears, Ultrino said, "We should stop kicking seniors 'here,' and pass this bill now."