Executive Director’s Report – October 2023
Dear RPEC Leaders:
October in the PNW is a time of transitioning to what I call “sweater weather.” It is also the time that we too are transitioning, accelerating our plans for the impending legislative session. Below is a summary of our federal and state legislative advocacy efforts, including an update on new informational webinars and tools exclusively for our valued members. Each week, keep abreast of RPEC news by reviewing the NewsFlash. Or visit our website at www.rpecwa.org and follow us on Facebook.
Member legislative advocacy
Thank you for taking the time to respond to our recent “call to action” to our Congressional leaders about the importance of averting a government shutdown. All told, 505 RPEC members responded to the Council’s call to action. Moving forward, we will provide more ways for you to engage with our Congressional leaders on matters that impact your hard-earned retirement benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. As you know from news reports, a temporary funding bill has been passed that will fund federal government operations through November 17th. We continue to work closely with AFSCME Retirees on our collective next steps.
RPEC leaders lobby Washington’s congressional delegation
RPEC President Clair Olivers, Secretary Nancy Heley (who also chairs the Legislative Committee) and Associate Director Derek VanSpoor represented our members in Washington D.C. for a Day on the Hill coordinated by AFSCME Retirees. RPEC’s delegation met with members of Washington’s congressional delegation to urge support for legislation to strengthen Social Security and to communicate concerns about discussions to reduce federal funding for this program and others benefiting seniors, including Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, the three also met independently with health policy staff working with Congressman Dan Newhouse, Senator Maria Cantwell, and Congresswomen Marilyn Strickland and Kim Schrier regarding support for the expansion of the federal pharmaceutical subsidies to Uniform Medical Plan (UMP) Classic Medicare. The subsidies are already afforded to Medicare Advantage Plans and Plan D prescription drug plans but are not currently available to government self-insured plans like UMP Classic Medicare. RPEC’s team also conveyed the importance of “leveling the playing field” by expanding Medicare benefits to include vision, dental and hearing. This priority is consistent with a resolution, co-sponsored by RPEC, which was unanimously approved by delegates to the 2023 Washington State Labor Council Convention. Read more about our delegation’s successes in D.C. in the fall issue of the Council’s membership newsletter.
State Relations & Advocacy
New Guide to Open Enrollment now available on RPEC website
Do you receive your healthcare insurance through the Health Care Authority’s (HCA) Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB)? If so, you may change healthcare plans in November during open enrollment. To help our members navigate the state’s complex healthcare landscape, RPEC partnered with SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors) to produce a three-part webinar series to help you understand your options. The three-part series features Tim Smolen of SHIBA and is facilitated by Matt Groshong (Chapter 3 President and Chair of the Healthcare Workgroup). The Guide to Open Enrollment includes the webinar links, resources provided by HCA, and more. Visit www.rpecwa.org.
We urge you to view the three-part webinar series right away. And, if you still need support, register to attend the “live” informational webinar hosted by the HCA on October 20th from 10 a.m. to noon. To attend this event, please register through Zoom here.
Save the Date for Legislative Day – January 22, 2024
RPEC’s annual Legislative Day, held in concert with the Washington Education Association-Retired, will take place on January 22nd in Olympia. The event is open to all active RPEC members. The annual event gives RPEC members a chance to meet with their state legislators from their legislative districts in their offices on the Capitol campus. Registration details will be available soon at www.rpecwa.org
RPEC dominates WSARA Convention
At the September 12th Convention of the Washington Alliance for Retired American’s (WSARA), RPEC was honored with the Senior Champion Award for leadership of the Public Employee Benefits Board (PEBB) Stakeholders Medicare Coalition and spearheading successful legislative advocacy efforts to preserve traditional Medicare and UMP Classic Medicare. This is the third award RPEC has garnered in recent months. In June, WEA-R honored us with the Advocate of the Year Award. In July, RPEC and Coalition partners earned the coveted Mother Jones Group Award from the Washington State Labor Council.
Moreover, delegates unanimously supported RPEC’s two resolutions. One called for support to restore a permanent cost of living adjustment to retirees vested in Plans 1. The second focused on the need for employers (state, counties, and cities) to bear more of the costs associated with retiree healthcare insurance available through the Health Care Authority Public Employees Benefits Board.
Plan 1 COLA Resolution https://rpecwa.org/wp-content/uploads/WSARA_Resolution_2023_Plan_1_COLA.pdf
The PEBB Stakeholders Medicare Coalition continues to meet regularly with HCA staff regarding outcomes from the listening sessions held this spring to improve service to retirees. Here are some new areas of focus for HCA:
- The agency has submitted a request for additional staff specifically assigned to support Medicare-eligible retirees. If the budget request is approved by the Governor, HCA will be adding three new staffers – a Medicare program manager, a communications officer specifically assigned to improve outreach and communication to retirees, and an accountant. The communications officer will be dedicated to customizing and improving the communications tools targeting Medicare-eligible retirees.
- Because of the overwhelming feedback about the need for the agency to improve its communications tools for retirees, HCA will launch retiree-only newsletters by February 2024.
- The agency is working to improve its website. Some RPEC members, who graciously took part in the listening sessions, were also invited to test the new website. It is encouraging that HCA is trying to seek input from stakeholders before rolling out new technology
- The agency is exploring introducing a managed Plan D prescription drug plan, and reconfiguring UMP Classic Medicare to be a medical-only policy. This option is being researched and may be presented at the PEB Board’s January 2024 retreat, which is open to the public.
Select Committee on Pension Policy Update
RPEC Council and chapter leaders met throughout the summer with key legislators serving on the Select Committee on Penson Policy (SCPP). All signs are pointing to potential legislation, sponsored by the SCPP, for another one-time 3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) in 2024 while the Committee researches and works to draft a proposal for the 2025 legislative session that will fund a recurring COLA. If you are vested in one of the Plan 1 retirement plans and are willing to share your personal story with us, please reach out to Government Affairs Coordinator Emmett Mills at email@example.com. We need more Plan 1 members stepping forward to share how the lack of a recurring COLA has impacted their purchasing power and quality of life.
As you continue to meet with state legislators this fall, let them know that all retirees deserve a recurring COLA.
Partner organization events – Senior Lobby Virtual Fall Conference, Oct. 19
RPEC is fortunate to work with various retiree and senior organizations on shared policy and legislative priorities. There is still time to register to attend the annual virtual Fall Conference of the Washington Senior Citizens’ Lobby on October 19th from 9-4 p.m. Registration closes on October 12th. The cost to participate is $40 per person. Registration fees may be paid by individuals or by chapters with approval. Register here. RPEC is a founding organization of the Senior Lobby. Two long-standing RPEC members serve on the organization’s governing board.
DRS webinar, Nov. 3, 1 p.m.
One of the benefits of membership in RPEC is our ability to gain access to top agency decision makers. If you have questions about your retirement benefits from the Department of Retirement Services (DRS), want to learn more about how to get help for specific questions or would like to be more informed about the agency and its pending agency request legislation, join us on November 3rd at 1 p.m. for a presentation by DRS leaders.
Register in advance for this meeting at https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcrcumgqDkjEtSTFcGFh1SE3Ur15LsLERpK. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Visit www.rpecwa.org for a full calendar of Council Office and chapter meetings:
- Oct 12 – Registration deadline, virtual Fall Conference, Senior Lobby (9-4 p.m.)
- Oct 12 – Healthcare Workgroup (3-5 p.m.)
- Oct 17 – Select Committee on Pension Policy (10-12 p.m.)
- Oct 19 – Senior Lobby virtual Fall Conference (9-4 p.m.)
- Oct 20 – HCA Open Enrollment webinar (10-12 p.m.)
- Oct 26 – Membership Committee (10-12 p.m.)
- Nov 1 – Legislative Day registration opens for RPEC members.
- Nov 3 – DRS webinar (1-2 p.m.)
- Nov 9 – Healthcare Workgroup (3-5 p.m.)
- Nov 10 – Council Office closed (in observance of Veterans Day, Nov 11)