Monday, April 15, 2024

RPEC Weekly NewsFlash, March 8, 2024

RPEC Weekly NewsFlash, March 8, 2024

Call to Action: Please Take Action Today on H.R. 5779

Concerns are escalating about the Fiscal Commission Act (H.R. 5779), which is poised for a House vote. This legislation will form a 16-member fiscal commission that will recommend spending cuts to balance the federal budget and reduce the debt ceiling. Since January, RPEC has been sharing information in the weekly NewsFlash emails about the concerning features of this bill. Now, AFSCME Retirees and the American Alliance for Retired Americans are calling on us to act now to stop the progression of this bill. Based on public comments rendered by House Speaker Mike Johnson, Social Security and Medicare funding will likely be targeted for cuts by the fiscal commission if the legislation is approved by Congress.

Here are two ways you can communicate your opposition to this bill:

  • Sign onto this letter. The letter is being sent by all AFSCME Retirees chapter members to your representatives in Congress. The sign-on process takes less than 1 minute to complete.
  • Call 1-844-331-0441. Tell Congress to vote NO on the Fiscal Commission Bill (H.R. 5779) and to oppose any legislation on fiscal commissions. This call will take only a few minutes of your time.

This bill continues to be on AFSCME Retiree’s high priority watchlist as budget negotiations intensify in March to secure approval of a final budget bill that will fund the federal government through fiscal year 2024 (October 1, 2023 through September 30, 2024).

Our strength is in our numbers. Your federal elected officials will take notice of your concerns as voting constituents. Thank you for taking time out of your day to take action. Stay tuned for the latest news on this bill and other state and federal advocacy issues through the weekly NewsFlash.

Legislature Passes Budget, Adjourns

On Thursday, March 7, the Washington State Legislature came to a close.  Both chambers passed a supplemental operating budget and then adjourned. The budget, which added an additional $2.1 billion to the $69.8 billion biennial budget that the legislature passed last year, includes funding for Substitute House Bill 1985, providing a one-time cost of living adjustment (COLA) to PERS 1 and TRS 1 retirees.

The 896-page bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support (39 yeas, 8 nays, 2 excused) and the House on a party line vote (58 yeas, 39 nays, 1 excused). It now heads to Governor Jay Inslee for signature. The Governor has the authority to veto entire sections of the bill, which the Legislature can override with a two-thirds vote. The Governor has 20 days (not including Sundays) to act on bills that are received within the final five days of session.

The 2024 Legislative Session was highly successful for RPEC. In addition to SHB 1985 and the budget, five other bills passed with RPEC’s support:


House Sends Spending Bill to Senate to Avert Partial Government Shutdown

Funding for roughly 30% of the federal government is due to expire at midnight on Friday, March 8. The House of Representatives voted to approve a $467.5 billion spending package of six funding bills on Wednesday. The bill now goes to the Senate, where leaders have indicated that they will back the measure. This legislation, once passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden, will extend funding available for dozens of federal programs, including agriculture, energy, housing, and veterans’ affairs, from March 8 until September 30.

There is another funding deadline for other major government agencies approaching this month. Congress has until March 22 to pass bills that would fund the State Department, health programs, homeland security, and defense. Negotiations are still underway at the time of this publication.

RPEC Bill Tracker 3-8-2024

Want to stay up to date on the progress of bills that impact your retirement security? Check out RPEC’s bill tracker. It’s updated every Friday and includes information on the most important bills of this legislative session. The tracker allows you to stay up to date on our bills and our work to influence their progress. Click here to view the bill tracker.

Healthcare for All Rally 2024

RPEC joined Health Care for All-Washington, Health Care Is a Human Right WA, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), Whole Washington, and several other organizations at the Capitol steps on March 6, the last day of the legislative session, rallying to call for universal health care and celebrating legislative victories that will help to pave the way for an affordable, equitable, and accessible health care system in Washington.

The program featured Ashley Fueston, Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) Vice President; Senator Bob Hasegawa; Senator Patty Kuderer; and dozens more. Leaders in the universal health care movement talked about solutions to our flawed health care system: the Universal Health Care Commission, the Washington Health Trust, and fighting against the total privatization of Medicare.

Laurie Weidner, RPEC Executive Director, was invited to speak on behalf of RPEC and the Public Employees’ Benefits Board (PEBB) Medicare Stakeholders’ Coalition. Laurie addressed the Coalition’s success in protecting one of only two non-privatized plans offered by PEBB for public sector retirees, and the Coalition’s policy work with the Health Care Authority. On behalf of the Seattle-King County NAACP and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Puget Sound, Claude Burfect, RPEC District 9 Representative, addressed the dangers of a profit-driven health care system, which disproportionately harms people of color. Chapter 3 members Gwen Rench, Mike Warren, and Linda Warren also joined in the call for universal health care from the Capitol steps.


Weekly Legislative Update Calls Wrapping Up

Throughout the 2024 Legislative Session, RPEC has hosted legislative update calls every Friday from 2:00 – 3:00 PM. The Zoom calls, which are open to all members, are an opportunity to learn about RPEC’s legislative priorities and stay up to date on their progress. As the 2024 Legislative Session ended on Thursday, March 7, the final weekly update call will occur on March 8. Then, beginning on April 5, the update calls will be held on the first Friday of each month from 2:00 to 3:00 PM. Here is the meeting login information for all legislative update calls:

Meeting ID: 890 4536 5250
Passcode: 320296

Dial in: (253) 215-8782

Chapter Nominations & Elections

A crucial component of RPEC is the chapter structure that supports mobilization and organization of members statewide. This structure can only be upheld by the officers of chapters.

The chapter structure depends on its leaders to keep the chapter functioning. To maintain this structure, new leaders need to take the place of those that step away. There are many seasoned leaders amongst RPEC’s membership that have valuable insight and expertise and would be thrilled to support incoming chapter leaders.

Chapter nominations and elections are approaching, so now is the time to express interest in serving in a leadership capacity for your chapter. Talk to your chapter president for more information about nominations and elections, what each officer role entails, and the ample resources available to new chapter leaders.

Retiree Election Manual:

Retiree Officer Manual:

Patients & Providers Affected Nationwide by Ransomware Attack on UnitedHealth Subsidiary

On February 21, health technology provider Change Healthcare shut down its impacted systems after discovering a cybersecurity threat perpetuated by a ransomware group. Change Healthcare is a pivotal health care technology company – one of the largest in the nation – owned by UnitedHealth Group (UHG) that manages claims from insurance providers, working with thousands of insurance companies, pharmacies, and hospitals to determine what patients owe. The third-party service processes 15 billion transactions annually, about 1 in 3 US patient records.

The outage has led to gaping holes in funding for health care organizations, as many have been unable to transmit patients’ health care claims and get paid. Thousands of medical practices have gone without revenue since the cyber-takedown. Rural hospitals with fewer resources and little to no cash reserves are especially vulnerable (most practices don’t carry cash reserves and rely entirely on cash flow being tied to timely submission of claim and payment). Many drug company discount coupons are also not working because of the outage, and with pharmacies being unable to process some insurance claims, patients have been forced to choose between paying hundreds, even thousands, more for medications that were previously covered by insurance or delaying refills for as long as possible until the issue is resolved.

Change Healthcare has not yet explained everything that has been affected by the hack, including what data and encrypted company files were stolen, leaving patients to only discover their coverage has been affected when they experience problems with filling a prescription or getting treated by a doctor. UnitedHealth Group has stated that they are working with law enforcement to address the issue but has not provided an ETA on when systems will return to normal. Optum, UnitedHealthcare, and UHG systems were not affected, according to UHG.

Two weeks later, pharmacies, physicians, and hospitals are scraping by with some temporary workarounds to ensure patients can still receive the treatment and medications they need. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on March 5 the immediate steps being taken by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to assist providers in continuing to serve patients. The announcement from HHS can be read here:

As of the time of publication, Change Healthcare systems are still down. Affected patients are advised to work with their pharmacies and providers as more resources become available.

Upcoming Events:

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

  • Mar. 14 – Healthcare Workgroup (3:30 pm)
  • Mar. 15 – Legislative Committee Meeting (10:00 am)
  • Mar. 21 – Public Employees’ Benefits Board (9:00 am)
  • Mar. 22 – Political Action Committee Meeting (10:00 am)
  • April 5 – Legislative Update Call (2:00 pm)
  • April 11 – Public Employees’ Benefits Board (9:00 am)
  • April 11 – Healthcare Workgroup (3:30 pm)
  • April 12 – Legislative Committee Meeting (10:00 am)

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