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Executive Director’s Monthly Letter – January 2023

Dear RPEC Leaders:

Happy New Year from our team to each of you!  We hope you had a peaceful and joy filled holiday season with your family and friends.  We are eager for the new year and are looking forward to a busy January with the beginning of the legislative session.

Register on or before January 11th for Legislative Day

January 11th is the deadline to register to participate in our in-person Legislative Day on January 30th from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  The event, held annually in concert with the Washington Education Association – Retired (WEA-R), kicks off at the Olympia Hotel at Capitol Lake with legislative advocacy training, followed by lunch.  Then, we’ll load buses and head to the Capitol for our afternoon legislator meetings.  We will return to the hotel for an intimate reception with legislators from 6-8 p.m.  Given the rise in COVID cases, seasonal flu, and other airborne viruses, we have instituted protocols to keep everyone safe. Details are available on the RPEC website. Visit the Council website at www.rpecwa.org for more information and to register today.

PEBB Medicare Coalition news

The Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) Medicare Coalition met in December, once again, with Health Care Authority (HCA) staff to secure approval of the agreement to preserve the UMP Classic Medicare Plan.  Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the signed agreement.  As a reminder, RPEC formed the Coalition this summer to work with HCA to broaden health care choices for public sector retirees and to include retiree voices in policy decision-making.  The Coalition includes:  RPEC, the Washington Education Association-Retired, the American Federation of Teachers Washington/Retiree Chapter, Social Security Works Washington, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans, Healthcare Is a Human Right, and Washington State Senior Citizens’ Lobby.

The December meeting with HCA staff was otherwise very productive.  We secured agreement on the details for the listening session pilot and are meeting again soon to hammer out how we will identify pilot participants from among the eight Coalition partners.  The listening sessions will be held via Zoom and will include between 10-12 participants, drawn from the organizations within the Coalition.  The pilot will take place in late February.  As background, listening sessions are like virtual focus groups.  Participants are invited to take part and are expected to prepare in advance for a rigorous discussion.  All those invited to take part in the pilot will receive a briefing packet, the questions to be covered by the facilitator, and meeting agreements to ensure everyone who participates can share their insights.  The pilot is designed to test the effectiveness of this engagement model and to make modifications for improvement.  Once the pilot is completed, HCA anticipates hosting many virtual listening sessions through the spring and summer months.  HCA will also be hosting virtual public forums to give beneficiaries an opportunity, in an unstructured format, to share insights about their plans of choice and to express concerns about plan offerings and/or HCA services.  We hope that HCA staff will use the input received from these stakeholder engagements to expand plan choices and to select plans that meet the needs of public sector retirees.  We are also hopeful that through our many months of work with them that they will begin to seek out input from retirees before making plan selections in the future.

Expanding health care choices and accountability for HCA

RPEC, in concert with Coalition partners, has been working with Senator Sam Hunt on a bill that aims to protect the UMP Classic Medicare plan in order to preserve health care choices for public sector retirees.  The bill also adds accountability for HCA to report to the Legislature the findings from the stakeholder engagements (the listening sessions and public forums noted above). Finally, the bill will direct HCA to seek federal subsidies to make government self-insured plans, like UMP Classic Medicare plan, eligible for federal subsidies to lower premium costs for beneficiaries.  Elyette Weinstein, our voting member on PEBB, who is also a member of the newly formed RPEC Health Care Workgroup, has been a wonderful resource to the Coalition and Ways & Means staff in the crafting of the draft bill language.  More details to follow in the weekly Legislative Calls that will begin on January 13th.

We have other legislative strategies underway that pertain to securing federal subsidies to lower premium costs.  More details will be forthcoming.

Select Committee on Pension Policy (SCPP) files bill to accomplish RPEC’s goals

HB 1057 was pre-filed in late December!  The bill carries language crafted by RPEC.  The bill creates a legislative pathway to a permanent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for PERS1 and TRS1 retirees.  The bill also includes another 3% one-time COLA, not to exceed $110 per month, for Plan 1 retirees.  While this bill is of chief interest to Plan 1 retirees, this bill should also be of interest to RPEC members vested in Plans 2 and 3.  We must stand together and be vigilant in protecting pension benefits for all public service retirees.  Securing a permanent COLA has been a legislative priority for RPEC for more than a decade.  In that time, we have also successfully defeated the Legislature’s attempts to create a fourth retirement plan, which would result in existing pension plans being under-funded. Learn more about RPEC’s other legislative victories at www.rpecwa.org.

Regence and BlueCross reach agreement with the Everett Clinic and The Polyclinic

On December 22, 2022, Regence and The Everett Clinic and The Polyclinic reached a new multi-year network agreement. Regence will mail letters to notify affected Uniform Medical Plan (UMP) members that they may continue to receive care from The Everett Clinic and The Polyclinic at the preferred provider network rate.

The new agreement applies to all employees, non-Medicare retirees, and Medicare retirees enrolled in any UMP offering under both the PEBB and SEBB Programs. For more information, please visit: https://www.hca.wa.gov/about-hca/news/announcements/everett-clinic-and-polyclinic-network-status-regence-blueshield/uniform-medical-plan

Free annual RPEC membership – Recruit 2 new members

For a limited time, RPEC is offering members a chance to earn one year’s free membership.  For every two new members you recruit, you will receive a check for $84! To get credit, your name must appear in the “Recruited by” field on the new members’ membership applications. Associate members do not count until they become full dues-paying members. Checks will only be issued to current members in good standing. If you recruit just two new members, your annual membership in RPEC will be free for a year!

Federal relations update

All RPEC members are concerned about preserving health care benefits and protecting and expanding Medicare.  To that end, in December, RPEC’s leadership sent a letter of support to the federal chair of the Subcommittee on Health in support of HB 8800: Supporting Medicare Providers Act of 2022.

As background, recent federal legislation boosted the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule to include higher physician reimbursement rates.  The increases were set to sunset in December 2022.  HB 8800 aims to extend the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule through 2023.  This bill is important to our members because, prior to this legislation, some physicians would not accept Medicare patients or dropped existing Medicare patients due to low reimbursement rates for service.  This bill helps to expand access to physicians for retirees on Medicare.

RPEC will continue to be vigilant in fighting to safeguard not only Medicare but also Social Security. In the short term, we will be focusing on the following priorities:

  • Supporting legislation to sustain reimbursement rates for physicians who serve Medicare patients.
  • Opposing legislation to increase the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare.
  • Expanding federal subsidies for health care plans to include state and employer self-insured plans like UMP Classic Medicare. (These subsidies are currently only available to Medicare Advantage Plans).

If health care interests you at a state and/or federal level, consider attending meetings of the newly formed Health Care Workgroup.  The Workgroup’s meeting schedule is posted on the RPEC calendar at www.rpecwa.org.

Looking for a new volunteer opportunity?  SHIBA is recruiting volunteer advisors

Many years ago, RPEC was instrumental in working with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) to create the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA).  Volunteer advisors, many of whom are retired from state and local government agencies and school districts like RPEC members, are trained by OIC staff to help answer questions about Medicare and retiree health insurance.  SHIBA volunteer advisors are caring and unbiased and receive no commissions or other payments; they volunteer because they want to help other retirees.

To learn more about becoming a volunteer advisor or to get your questions answered about Medicare and retiree health insurance, visit https://www.insurance.wa.gov/about-shiba-services.

Important Dates 

Jan. 9:  First day of the legislative session
Jan 11:  Deadline to register for Legislative Day (register online)
Jan. 13:  Special Executive Board meeting
Jan. 13:  Legislative Update Call (these are held weekly beginning Jan. 13)
Jan. 16:  Council Office closed in observance of MLK Day
Jan. 20:  Monthly Leadership Call
Jan. 20:  Legislative Update Call
Jan. 27:  Legislative Update Call
Jan. 30: Legislative Day (in-person in Olympia)
Feb. 3:  Legislative Update Call
Feb. 8:  Health Care Workgroup
Feb. 10:  Legislative Committee Meeting
Feb. 10:  Legislative Update Call
Feb. 13: Senior Lobby
Feb. 17:  Legislative Update Call
Feb. 22:  Health Care Workgroup
Feb. 24:  Monthly Leadership Call
Feb. 24:  Legislative Update Call
Feb. 27: Executive Board Meeting

Best,
Laurie

 

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