Friday, April 19, 2024

Laurie Weidner named Advocate of the Year by Washington Education Association – Retired

Laurie Weidner named Advocate of the Year by Washington Education Association – Retired

Left to Right: WEA-R Vice President Shirley Hickey, WEA-R President Mary Lindsey, RPEC Executive Director Laurie Weidner

RPEC Executive Director Laurie Weidner has been named Advocate of the Year by Washington Education Association – Retired (WEA-R) for her work to preserve health insurance options for retirees who receive coverage through the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) and for leading the PEBB Stakeholders’ Medicare Coalition.  The award was presented at WEA-R’s convention on June 7 at WEA Headquarters in Federal Way.

Weidner, who joined RPEC in March 2022, had been on the job for only two months when RPEC learned that the Healthcare Authority (HCA) and PEBB intended to eliminate the state’s most popular healthcare plan for public sector retirees without notifying stakeholders or seeking their input to inform this drastic policy decision.  Uniform Medical Plan (UMP) Classic Medicare was the plan of choice for more than 55,000 retirees.  RPEC learned about this agenda item when HCA’s meeting materials were made public.  In 2.5 weeks, RPEC mobilized senior and retiree organizations to protest the June 30th meeting of the PEB Board where the vote would be taken to terminate the UMP Classic Medicare Plan.  RPEC developed the organizing strategy, messaging, and all organizing materials. RPEC worked behind the scenes with appointees to the PEB Board to craft a resolution that would suspend the PEB Board vote and require HCA to engage stakeholders.  The June 30th PEB Board meeting was attended virtually by more than 300 retirees representing RPEC and Coalition partner organizations.  RPEC’s efforts were carried on the front page of the Olympian and promoted statewide through the newspaper’s sister publications.

Following that victory, the coalition of organizations formalized itself and became The PEBB Stakeholders’ Medicare Coalition.  Its members include RPEC, WEA-R, Washington Federation of State Employees (AFSCME Council 28), American Federation of Teachers Washington-Retiree Chapter, the Washington Alliance for Retired Americans, Washington Senior Citizens Lobby, Health Care is a Human Right, and Social Security Works.  From July 2022-February 2023, the Coalition met bi-monthly with HCA leaders to organize stakeholder engagements for retirees.  The model used by HCA was crafted by RPEC.  To maintain accountability for HCA, the Coalition kept the Governor’s Office informed through formal letters of concern.  Moreover, the Coalition worked together to organize retirees in support of SB 5169 (which was initiated by the Coalition), a budget proviso increasing legislative oversight of HCA, and organizing 176 retirees to take part in 27 stakeholder engagements hosted by HCA.

The Coalition, through RPEC’s urging, initiated Senate Bill 5169, aimed at increasing accountability for HCA.  During the hearing process, RPEC and Coalition partners organized more than 1,000 retirees and supporters to register “support” positions on the bill.  The bill morphed into a proviso, which was included in the final budget.  The proviso forces increased accountability for HCA.  The stakeholder engagements, undertaken in spring 2023, will now culminate with a report to the Legislature in December 2023.  The agency is also required to identify more government self-insured plans that have benefits equal to or greater than those of UMP Classic Medicare but are more affordable for retirees.

WEA-R is the retiree affiliate of Washington Education Association, one of the largest and most influential unions in the state.  WEA-R and RPEC have worked together for many years to protect the retirement security of retired public employees, school employees, and teachers.  RPEC and WEA-R hold an annual joint legislative day event.

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