By Andrea Meyer
The 2021 Oregon Legislative session was one of the most challenging in Oregon history with a closed state Capitol from COVID and the looming risk of both an economic and health care crises. Nevertheless, AARP Oregon successfully advocated on behalf of people 50-plus and their families achieving important new legislation and blocking harmful bills.
New this year, AARP inaugurated the Legislative Advocacy Volunteers (LAVs), AARP Oregon activists who engaged throughout the session with advocacy, building relationships with their state legislators, and taking the lead on a very successful virtual lobby day, allowing for truly statewide engagement.
Defeated Blanket & Limited Immunity Legislation (SB 780 & HB 2638): WIN
Since the onset of the pandemic, the business lobby broadly, and the health care lobby specifically, have been advocating for legislation that would give them legal protection (immunity) from lawsuits claiming negligence during the COVID emergency declaration. AARP Oregon helped stop efforts during the three 2020 special sessions and again during this session.
AARP opposes any effort to strip away the rights of long-term care residents and their families to hold facilities responsible for abuse, neglect and even death during the COVID emergency declaration. We were successful in having SB 780 amended to remove long-term care facilities (it ultimately died on the House side) and led the opposition to HB 2638 when it was heard on the House side (it died in committee).
Family Caregiver Support Program (SB 5529): WIN
Since 2019, AARP Oregon, along with the Alzheimer’s Association, has been working to provide state funding support to implement a new Family Caregiver Support (FCS) program. This session we needed the legislature to fund and authorize Aging & People with Disabilities (APD) to file a waiver request to the federal government (necessary to authorize the program and provide critical matching federal funds). Thanks in part to AARP Oregon advocacy the legislature added an additional $4.4 million to APD’s budget specifically to fund the FCS program. It may take a year to get federal approval but AARP will be advocating along the way to make sure Oregon family caregivers get the support they need.
Prescription Drug Affordability Board – PDAB (SB 844): WIN
Prescription drugs do not work if Oregonians cannot afford them. This session, AARP Oregon joined efforts with others, including the Oregon Coalition for Affordable Prescriptions, to fight for lower prescription drug costs. SB 844 originally would have created a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) with the power to set upper payment limits (UPL) of high-priced drugs. With the leadership of Sen. Deb Patterson and Rep. Rachel Prusak, SB 844 passed the Senate Health Care Committee with referral to the Joint Ways & Means Committee.
However, the Oregonian reported that the industry trade group PhRMA alone spent nearly $1.3 million on lobbying in Oregon this year, far more than any other entity, and the bill was ultimately watered down. Although the final version of this bill removed the Board’s authority to limit the price, it requires the Board to review the most expensive drugs, including taking into account health inequities in communities of color, and to return with future legislative recommendations including UPL setting authority. AARP will continue to advocate for lower prescription drug prices.
Workplace Age Discrimination Task Force (HB 2938): LOSS
During 2019, AARP Oregon launched its campaign to fix Oregon law to address the significant barriers faced by older Oregonians in bringing age discrimination cases. Because of court rulings, it is much harder to prove a claim of workplace age discrimination than any other claim of discrimination (e.g. religion, race, gender). In 2020, AARP Oregon advanced an age discrimination task force bill that would bring all stakeholders together to see if we could find consensus on a future legislative fix. 2020 efforts were almost successful but for the Republican walkout at the end of session. This year, AARP Oregon renewed the task force bill. HB 2938 once again had bi-partisan support and unanimously passed House Business & Labor but, like all task force bills, it was referred to the Joint Ways & Means Committee. Unfortunately, it met the fate of many bills this session, and did not move out that Committee. We are not done; AARP Oregon will continue our efforts to fix Oregon’s workplace age discrimination law!
Additional Wins this Session
And there’s more….While Oregon was a leader in adopting an advance directive law in 1993, Oregon law was in need of updates. After work by many stakeholders during the past few years, AARP Oregon, along with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Providence Health Systems, took the lead to shepherd SB 199, a revised Advance Directive law through session and starting this fall there will be a significantly new advance directive form available to all Oregonians to use.
During the pandemic, many Oregonians relied on telehealth care to meet virtually with health care providers, which the legislature authorized on a temporary basis. HB 2508 made permanent a consumer-oriented telehealth law. AARP Oregon successfully advocated for important provisions, including “audio-only” access (allowing telephone visits for those who do not have or cannot access Internet for video conferencing) and ensuring “coverage parity” (if insurance covers the service in-person, it is covered through telehealth). This change is helpful to every Oregonian and particularly a resource for those involved in family caregiving, reducing the need to drive to every doctor visit.
Early on during COVID, Oregon drafted crisis health care guidelines that ran the risk of rationing health care treatment based on a person’s age or disability. While this is against federal law, there was no similar protection in Oregon law. This difference is important because it is much quicker to get relief in Oregon courts than in federal courts. AARP Oregon joined Disability Rights Oregon in supporting SB 567, which prohibits health care providers from denying, limiting or restricting a medical service based on a patient’s race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or age.
Finally, AARP Oregon joined many organizations in supporting COVID tenant protections against evictions (SB 282), supporting a cap on out-of-pocket charges for insulin medication (HB 2623), creating a state-recognized holiday of Juneteenth (HB 2168) and requiring licensing of student loan servicers (SB 485).
AARP Volunteers Make the Difference
AARP Oregon could not do our work without volunteers. The state office is growing the team of volunteer legislative activists. If you are interested in engaging your State legislators in support of AARP’s agenda, considering becoming an AARP volunteer and apply here to become a member of the Legislative Advocacy Volunteer team. Advocacy training begins in the fall for those who want to help advance AARP’s agenda on behalf of people 50-plus and their families.
Andrea Meyer is the AARP Oregon Government Relations Director
Photo: Joyce De Monnin
AARP Oregon Scored Wins for People 50+ and Their Families During the 2021 Oregon Legislative Session
By Andrea Meyer