By AARP Advocacy Director Ingrid McDonald
This winter the Washington state legislature convened for their annual session in Olympia and for the first time in several years, adjourned on time. The 60-day session was short in length and also short on achievement.
Legislators postponed tough decisions on tax policy and education funding. They could not agree on a transportation revenue package or a capitol budget. And they made only modest adjustments to the biennial budget agreed to last session.
While few major policy bills passed, legislators did take time to consider how to prepare our state for the age wave on the horizon. They are absorbing the demographic reality that by 2020, one of five Washingtonians will be 65+. And they are realizing that this has big implications for our society and state government.
The State House passed two bills on this front, including a bill sponsored by Representative Steve Tharinger (D-Sequim) to study alternative long term care financing options and a bill by Representative Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) and Senator Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) to make it easier for people to save for retirement. Both bills received bi-partisan support in the House but stalled in the Senate.
Failing to act in these areas will cause budget challenges for legislators in the future. An estimated one million Washingtonians are working but not saving for retirement. If they retire without necessary resources, the state will be forced to pick up the tab with increased costs for social services like Meals on Wheels and housing assistance.
Likewise, if we do not help people protect themselves from the catastrophic cost of long term care, more and more will turn to our state Medicaid program for assistance. Medicaid is already consuming a large and growing slice of the state budget. It’s in everyone interests, including state budget writers, to find better long term care financing solutions.
In other areas of concern to seniors, legislators were able to agree:
They passed a bill to develop an Alzheimer’s State Plan, sponsored by Senator Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines).
They passed the Pension Poachers Prevention Act to stop scams on veterans, at the request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson and sponsored by Senator Andy Hill (R-Redmond) and Representative Kevin Parker (R-Spokane).
And they passed a bill to improve our health care system and create more transparency around health care cost and quality, requested by Governor Inslee and sponsored by Representative Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle).
Finally, legislators agreed to a budget that makes small but meaningful new investments in the Long Term Care Ombudsman program and the Office of Public Guardianship, programs that are the guard at the gate for some of our state’s most vulnerable elders.
Increasingly, Governor Jay Inslee and state legislators from both parties are aware that action is needed now to prepare for the age wave. They want people to be successful in preparing for retirement and stay healthy, engaged and mobile as they age. But competing priorities and political disagreements sometimes make for slow progress. It’s our job to ask them to put their differences aside and embrace win-win solutions for all generations.