Monday, March 4, 2024

RPEC Seeks Federal Prescription Drug Subsidy to Lower Healthcare Premiums

RPEC Seeks Federal Prescription Drug Subsidy to Lower Healthcare Premiums

This week, four RPEC leaders (Elyette Weinstein, Carol Dotlich, Bev Hermanson and Clair Olivers) worked with Council Office staff to send a letter to State Senator Patty Murray to enlist her help in seeking the federal prescription drug subsidy for government self-insured healthcare plans like UMP Classic Medicare.  This subsidy is currently only available to privatized Medicare Advantage Plans.  If this subsidy were available for UMP Classic Medicare, it would lower premium costs.

In response to this letter, Senator Murray’s Washington State Director will be meeting with RPEC leaders in July to discuss our concerns and to work with the Senator’s office on a path forward to broaden access to the federal prescription drug subsidy to include government self-insured plans like UMP Classic Medicare.

At RPEC’s urging, HCA has also sent a letter to the Congressional delegation making them aware of the concerns of retirees about escalating premium costs for this healthcare plan and calling upon Congress to consider an extension of the federal prescription drug subsidy.

Background

Late last month, the Health Care Authority (HCA) completed the last stakeholder engagement meetings designed to learn more about retiree satisfaction with healthcare plans and HCA services.  All told, HCA hosted 24 sessions, involving 176 retirees – many of whom were RPEC members.

These stakeholder engagements were required of HCA due to RPEC’s advocacy efforts last summer.  Working in solidarity with partner organizations, RPEC led an opposition effort that stopped HCA from eliminating the most popular healthcare plan for retirees in the state (UMP Classic Medicare).  HCA had made that decision based solely on skyrocketing premium costs without ever speaking to or notifying retirees in advance of the June 2022 meeting of the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB). Following the defeat of that agenda item, PEB Board members passed a resolution requiring HCA to hold stakeholder engagements in 2023, and to use the feedback gleaned from retirees to inform policy decisions and choices about healthcare plan options.

Now that HCA, RPEC and the Public Employees Benefits Board Stakeholders’ Medicare Coalition (which RPEC formed and leads) have reviewed the initial notes from these retiree engagement sessions, a handful of key themes have emerged.  One is the need to make UMP Classic Medicare more affordable through access to the federal prescription drug subsidy.

The premium increase for the UMP Classic Medicare plan soared by 20% in 2023, placing the plan out of financial reach for many who otherwise would have stayed with that insurance provider.  At the next PEB Board meeting, scheduled for June 29th, the PEB Board will again be discussing and voting on premium increases.  The agenda and materials for the meeting will be published on the HCA website on June 26th.  RPEC is anticipating premium increases and will share more information once the meeting agenda and materials are made public on the HCA website.

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