Thursday, February 29, 2024

RPEC Weekly Newsflash, June 23, 2023

RPEC Weekly Newsflash, June 23, 2023

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.

Select Committee on Pension Policy Holds First Meeting of 2023

On Tuesday, June 20, 2023, the Select Committee on Pension Policy (SCPP) held its first meeting of 2023.  The SCPP is a special committee tasked with studying public employee pensions and making policy recommendations to the Legislature.  Its members represent all groups that are impacted by pensions: retirees, active employees, state and local governments, and key legislators who serve on fiscal committees.

At the meeting, the SCPP received a briefing on pension legislation that passed during the 2023 legislative session, including Senate Bill 5350, which will provide PERS 1 and TRS 1 retirees with a 3% one-time COLA in July 2023.  The bill, which was one of RPEC’s top priorities, also requires the SCPP to study and recommend an ongoing COLA proposal for PERS 1 and TRS 1 retirees to the legislature.

The committee next discussed its plan for the remainder of the year, which includes a meeting in July and monthly meetings from September through December.  RPEC President Clair Olivers urged the committee to begin working on an ongoing PERS 1/TRS 1 COLA proposal as soon as possible and submitted a letter to the same effect on behalf of RPEC.

The committee then elected officers.  While committee rules say that a member of the House of Representatives must chair the committee in odd-numbered years, House members asked to delay the election of chair and vice chair to the July meeting.  Senator Steve Conway will continue to serve as chair for another month.  SCPP retiree representative and RPEC member Bev Hermanson was elected to serve on the SCPP Executive Committee.

Following the meeting, the SCPP Executive Committee met to plan for the July meeting.  At Hermanson’s request, the Executive Committee agreed to have a presentation on the pension funding pathway that the Legislature committed to earlier this year to fully fund PERS 1 and TRS 1.  As employer contributions are reduced, there will be opportunities to redirect funds toward an ongoing PERS 1/TRS 1 COLA.

As the SCPP continues to study restoring a PERS 1/TRS 1 COLA, RPEC will play a major role in advocating for the best plan for retirees.  Stayed tuned for opportunities to support our efforts with the SCPP throughout the rest of the year.  If you are a PERS 1 retiree with an important story to share about why you need a COLA, please contact RPEC Government Affairs Coordinator Emmett Mills at emmett.mills@rpecwa.org or (360) 352-8262 ext. 103.

Upcoming Events:

Please refer to our calendar page for more information about each event, including links to Zoom meetings, if available.

  • June 26 – Leadership Training Part A (10:00 am)
  • June 29 – Public Employees Benefits Board Meeting (9:00 am)
  • June 29 – Healthcare Workgroup Meeting (3:30 pm)
  • June 30 – Leadership Training Part B (10:00 am)
  • July 4 – Council Office closed, Independence Day
  • July 7 – Monthly Legislative Update Call (2:00 pm)
  • July 12 – Public Employees Benefits Board Meeting (9:00 am)
  • July 13 – Healthcare Workgroup Meeting (3:30 pm)
  • July 14 – Legislative Committee Meeting (10:00 am)
  • July 17 – Senior Lobby (10:00 am)
  • July 18 – Select Committee on Pension Policy Meeting (10:00 am)
  • July 19 – Public Employees Benefits Board Meeting (9:00 am)
  • July 20 – WFSE Resource Fair, Vancouver (5:30 pm)
  • July 26 – Public Employees Benefits Board Meeting (9:00 am)
  • July 27 – Membership Committee Meeting (10:00 am)

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