Legislation & Benefits Updates

Each year, the UWRA board establishes priorities for the legislative session, and provides ongoing updates to members on relevant topics.

Ongoing Benefits Advocacy

Overview and Priorities

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UWRA takes no position on which health plan is right for any particular person, but we firmly believe that retirees should have the broadest and best possible choices available to them as they make this highly personal decision. Thus, UWRA’s primary goal with regard to retiree health benefits is ensuring that UW retirees have the widest possible choice of plans at a cost that is affordable across all income levels.

What We’re Working On Today

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  • Strategies for controlling and reducing premium cost. We are working closely with the Health Care Authority to explore options that would:
    • maximize access to federal subsidies which are currently not available to self-funded plans such as Uniform Medical Plan,
    • adjust the benefits structure of existing plans to control cost while maintaining or improving coverage and service levels, and
    • mitigate rising costs by combining current state employees and state retirees into a single actuarial risk pool.
  • Collaboration with the Health Care Authority to improve communication and transparency. UWRA continues to strengthen its relationship with HCA staff to ensure that UW retirees’ interests are fully understood and reflected in HCA’s work, by:
    • ensuring that a UWRA representative attends all public meetings of the Public Employees Benefits Board and reports key discussions and outcomes to the board of directors and, where appropriate, the membership,
    • actively participating in the HCA’s Employee and Retiree Benefits Retiree Outreach Group, and
    • providing feedback to the HCA on their communications with retirees.
  • Maintaining access to Uniform Medical Plan for all retirees. At this time, there is no active plan to discontinue UMP for Medicare-eligible retirees. In response to stakeholder feedback, the Health Care Authority and Public Employees Benefits Board have withdrawn the proposal to close the plan. To the very best of our understanding, this decision is final.

2024 Legislative Session

Overview and Priorities

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The UWRA Board has adopted its priorities for the 2024 State Legislative session, as follows:

  • Secure an ad hoc Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for PERS 1 participants for the coming budget year.
  • Support the Health Care Authority in its exploration and vetting of options to lower premiums in the Uniform Medical Classic Medicare plan, including the possibility of decoupling the prescription drug benefit from the plan and replacing it with a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan and/or advocating for changes to the Social Security Act that impact the ability of self-funded plans to access the full range of available federal subsidies.
  • Establish a permanent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for PERS 1 pensions.
  • Lower the minimum age for retirement in PERS 2 and PERS 3 to mirror requirements for UWRP participants.
  • Support the Health Care Authority’s agency request to change statutory language regarding the explicit Medicare subsidy to explicitly allow the subsidy to apply to prescription drug plans as distinct from medical plans.
  • Pursue an increase in the explicit Medicare subsidy, currently set at $183/month/retiree or 50% of the premium, whichever is less.

OTHER AREAS OF ONGOING INTEREST

Although there is no active legislation under consideration, we have a long-term interest in advancing discussion and action related to affordable housing for seniors, and long-term care insurance. We will continue to seek opportunities to raise the profile of these issues among our constituents and lawmakers with an eye toward advancing legislative solutions in future years.

February 21, 2024: Update on the Legislative Session

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Here is an update on bills in the State Legislature that are of interest to retirees.  Some have not survived in this year’s short legislative session, but some are still “alive.”

  • HB 1985 provides a one-time 3% cost of living increase for Plan 1 retirees, with a cap of $110/month.  The bill has moved out of the House and into the Senate, where it was not included in the Senate budget proposal. Its fate likely will be decided in budget negotiations.
  • The “month of death” proposal (HB 2013) was pared back by the House of Representatives and replaced by HB 2481, which provides that the State will pay medical insurance premiums for the entire month in which a retiree or beneficiary dies. The retirement benefit would continue only through the date the recipient dies. The new bill had a public hearing on February 20.
  • SB 6101 extends licensing and coverage for the “hospital at home” and is still alive.
  • HB 2188 would have increased the explicit subsidy for Medicare-eligible retirees enrolled in a PEBB program medical insurance platform from no more than 50% of the medical insurance premium to no more than 60%.  The bill is “dead.”
  • HB 1859, which would have granted any resident of a long-term care facility the protections of due process for attempts to discharge the resident, did not make it out of committee and is “dead.”
  • HB 2119, which would have protected consumers from garnishment of wages, including pensions, for payment of medical debt, is “dead.”

February 7, 2024: Update on Legislative Session

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It’s a short Washington State legislative session this year. Things have moved very quickly and two major cut-off deadlines for bills have already passed. This means some bills have “died.” But some of great interest to retirees are still “alive.” Here’s a brief summary of bills of interest:

  • HB 1985 would provide a one-time 3% cost of living increase for Plan 1 retirees, with a cap of $110/month. The bill is still “alive.”
  • HB 2013 appears to be “dead” and replaced by HB 2481 which provides that the State will pay medical insurance premiums for the entire month in which a retiree or beneficiary dies. The retirement benefit will continue to be paid only through the date the recipient dies.
  • HB 2188 would have increased the explicit subsidy for Medicare-eligible retirees enrolled in the PEBB program from no more than 50 percent of the medical insurance premium to no more than 60 percent. The bill is “dead.”
  • HB 1859, which would have granted any resident of a long-term care facility the protections of due process for attempts to discharge the resident, has not made it out of committee and is considered “dead.”
  • HB 2119 which would protect consumers from garnishment of wages, including pensions, for payment of medical debt appears to have died.
  • HB 2149 which protects consumer information in the “commercial sector” appears to have “died.”
  • SB 6101 pertains to extending licensing and coverage for the “hospital at home” and is still be alive.

January 24, 2024: Bills the Legislation & Benefits Committee is Monitoring

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Among the many bills introduced in the first weeks of the 2024 State Legislative session, here are some that the Legislation and Benefits Committee is following:

  • HB 1985 provides for a one-time 3% cost of living adjustment to Plan 1 pensions up to a maximum of $125 per month. This bill had its public hearing on January 15 and may be heard in Executive Session of the House Appropriations Committee on January 25.
  • HB 2013 directs that state retirement benefits be paid until the end of the month in which the retiree or beneficiary dies rather than the current practice of paying through the date of death. This bill had its public hearing on January 15 and is scheduled for Executive Session in the House appropriations Committee on January 25.
  • HB 2188 increases the explicit subsidy for Medicare-eligible retirees enrolled in the Public Employees Benefit Board program from no more than 50 percent of the medical insurance premium to no more than 60 percent. This bill had a public hearing on January 15.
  • HB 1859 would grant any resident of a long-term care facility the protections of due process for attempts to discharge the resident. This bill was scheduled for a public hearing on January 23.
  • HB 2119 protects consumers from garnishment of wages, including pensions, for payment of medical debt. This bill had a public hearing on January 17 and is scheduled for Executive Session in the House Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary on January 26.
  • HB 2149 protects consumer information in the “commercial sector.” This bill had a public hearing on January 19.
  • SB 6101 pertains to extending licensing and coverage for the “hospital at home” that was first implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic. This bill had its public hearing on January 18.

January 17, 2024: Legislative Progress

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Three bills of significant interest to retirees had their first public hearing in the State Legislature yesterday. The text of these three bills, their status, and information on how to comment or testify at future hearings can be found at leg.wa.gov.

  • HB 1985 provides for a one-time 3% cost of living adjustment to Plan 1 pensions up to a maximum of $125 per month.
  • HB 2013 directs that state retirement benefits be paid until the end of the month in which the retiree or beneficiary dies, rather than the the current practice of paying through the date of death.
  • HB 2188 increases the explicit subsidy for Medicare-eligible retirees enrolled in the Public Employee Benefits Board program from no more than 50 percent of the medical insurance premium to no more than 60 percent.

Separately, an increase in the amount of the maximum explicit Medicare subsidy from $183 per month to $193 per month is included in the Governor’s supplemental budget.

January 11, 2024: Reaching Your Legislators

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The Washington legislature started its 2024 session on Monday with a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on the governor’s requested budget. The UW’s priorities for this short 60- day session are described here.

Bills will move rapidly toward final action.

While Washington has very strict ethics rules prohibiting the use of state resources to lobby, as a citizen you can directly influence the issues that matter to you by expressing your views privately. By signing up with UW Impact, you can learn when UW requests are at a critical juncture and your voice will matter the most. Remember you must not use your UW email address in communicating to support or oppose a particular bill.

The State provides general information  on how to make your views known by submitting written testimony, signing up to testify on bills either in-person or remotely by Zoom, or registering as pro or con on a bill with the committee that’s considering the bill here.

The State also offers tools to identify your legislative district and to find your representatives in the House and in the Senate.

December 13, 2023: Considering the Possibility of a Permanent PERS 1 COLA

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The State Legislature’s Select Committee on Pension Policy (the bi-partisan committee charged with making recommendations to the full Legislature on policy for the state’s pension programs) met December 12. On the agenda was an update on the study of a potential permanent cost of living adjustment for the plans 1 pensions. While no analysis was presented, public testimony was accepted. Staff for the committee from the Office of the State Actuary will be working from now until spring on an analysis of alternatives and their fiscal impact on the state. The Select Committee will begin meeting again in April and the study will be on the committee’s agenda at that time. Among the alternatives likely to be considered is implementation of a cost of living adjustment similar to that provided for plans 2 and 3.

November 21, 2023: Forward Motion on PERS 1 Cost of Living Adjustment

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On November 14 the Select Committee on Pension Policy (a joint committee of the State Legislature) voted to recommend to the Legislature a one-time 3% cost of living adjustment with a $125/month cap for recipients of Plan 1 pensions. Legislation must now be introduced in the next State legislative session and passed.

The Select Committee also endorsed changing the “month of death” rule for all State pension recipients so that pension payments would be made for the entire month in which the recipient died, rather than prorated. Action by the full Legislature will be required for this change as well.

November 9, 2023: Proposal for a PERS 1 Cost of Living Adjustment

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The Select Committee on Pension Policy (the State Legislature’s joint committee) will meet at 10am next Tuesday, November 14, to review proposed legislation, take public testimony and vote on a proposal to provide a one time ad hoc cost of living adjustment for retirees receiving a pension under the PERS 1 plan.

The PERS 1 plan is the only PERS plan that does not provide for an annual cost of living adjustment; the Legislature must approve each year’s increase.

Tuesday’s meeting will be held on Zoom.  Public comment will be taken at the meeting or can be submitted before the hearing.  Once the Select Committee makes its recommendation, the proposed legislation will still have to be approved by the State Legislature.  To view committee meetings or access the committee meeting documents, visit the Legislature’s committee schedules, agendas, and documents website.  Instructions for how to register for remote public testimony are here. Registration is now open and will close one hour before the start of the meeting.

2023 Legislative Session

Overview and Priorities

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The UWRA Board has adopted its priorities for the 2023 State Legislative session, as follows:

  • Maintaining the current $183/month maximum explicit Medicare subsidy for each retiree and each partner/spouse who purchases medical insurance through the Public Employees Benefit Board. This existing subsidy, which is automatically included in premium calculations for retirees’ medical insurance, requires authorization in each biennial budget.
  • Securing a one-time 3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) on the first $44,000 of pension income for PERS1 retirees. The other DRS plans already include a COLA.
  • Retaining the Uniform Medical Plan’s Medicare Classic plan, and exploring premium cost containment options and additional plan choices. At present, there is no active request or plan to discontinue UMP Classic for Medicare retirees.
  • Assuring full pension funding. PERS1 remains in deficit due to cuts made during the great recession.
  • Supporting the UW’s legislative priorities.
  • Supporting efforts to improve and implement the Washington Cares Act.

Many, but not all, of these priorities are contained in the Governor’s budget.  Bills are being introduced related to many of these issues.

May 23, 2023: Legislative Session Wrap-up

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Here are some of the bills and budget items of interest to retirees that passed during the 2023 State Legislative session:

  • The $183/member per month explicit subsidy for Medicare-eligible State retirees who purchase their medical insurance through the Public Employees Benefit Board is contained in the 2023-25 biennial budget. This subsidy is deducted from the cost of insurance before the retiree pays the premium. This bill continues the existing program.
  • A 3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for those who receive a PERS 1 pension is included in the 2023-25 biennial budget.  The increase is effective July 1, 2023 and is capped at $110 per month. This COLA must be renewed annually only for PERS 1. PERS 2 and PERS 3 already have automatic COLAs.
  • SB 5350 – Directs the State Legislature’s Select Committee on Pension Policy to study and make recommendations regarding an ongoing cost of living adjustment for Plan 1 retirees.
  • SB 5490 – A retired or disabled employee who was eligible to defer medical insurance coverage when they left State employment, but failed to do so and later applied for retiree coverage and was denied solely for failure to notify the HCA of their plan to defer coverage, and appealed the denial of benefits by December 31, 2022, may enroll in retiree health care.
  • SB 5421 – Creates a public records act exemption for all enrollment information collected by the PEBB.
  • SB 5729 – Removes the expiration date limiting out-of-pocket expenses to $35 for a 30-day supply of insulin.
  • SB 5179 – Makes changes to the Death with Dignity Act.
  • HB 1222 – Requires certain large group health plans to provide coverage for hearing instruments.
  • HB 1056 – Permits certain retirees of the State’s retirement systems that took a specific early retirement option to work in a retirement system-covered position prior to reaching age 65, for up to 867 hours per year without a suspension of their retirement benefits.
  • HB 1312 – An individual age 80 or older may be excused from jury duty if that person attests that the request is due to health reasons.  No doctor’s note is required.

May 3, 2023: What Happened in the 2023 Legislative Session?

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The State Legislature wrapped up its 2023 session on April 23.  The governor has until May 13 to sign bills that have passed both houses of the legislature.  Below is a partial listing of bills of interest to retirees that have made it through passage by both houses and the governor’s signature:

  • HB 1008 – Allows certain individuals who are in PERS 2 and separate from service but do not retire, to participate in the retiree benefits of the Public Employees Benefit Board (PEBB).
  • SB 5490 – A retired or disabled employee who was eligible to defer coverage when they left employment, but failed to do so and later applied for retiree coverage and was denied solely for failure to notify the Health Care Authority of their plan to defer coverage, and appealed the denial of benefits by December 31, 2022, may enroll in retiree health care.
  • SB 5421 – Creates a public records act exemption for all enrollment information collected by the PEBB.
  • SB 5729 – The expiration date limiting out-of-pocket expenses to $35 for a 30 day supply of insulin is removed.
  • SB 5179 – Makes changes to the Death with Dignity Act.

April 18, 2023: Legislative Update

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The State Legislature is due to wrap up its 2023 session on April 23. While fiscal items like the operating and capital budgets of the UW and the cost of living adjustment for PERS 1 retirees are still in the budget negotiation process, several bills that are of interest to retirees have been signed or are awaiting the governor’s signature.

The $183/member per month explicit subsidy for State Medicare eligible retirees who purchase their medical insurance through the Public Employees Benefit Board is contained in the governor’s budget, the Senate budget and the House budget. This renews the existing subsidy, which is already deducted from the cost of insurance before the retiree pays the premium.

Here are some of the bills of interest to retirees that have passed both houses of the State Legislature and have either been signed by the governor or are on the governor’s desk awaiting signature:

  • SB 5490 – Has been signed by the governor: A retired or disabled employee who was eligible to defer coverage when they left employment, but failed to do so and later applied for retiree coverage and was denied solely for failure to notify HCA of their plan to defer coverage, and appealed the denial of benefits by December 31, 2022, may enroll in retiree health care.
  • SB 5421 – Has been signed by the governor: Creates a public records act exemption for all enrollment information collected by the PEBB.
  • SB 5729 – Has been signed by the governor: The expiration date limiting out-of-pocket expenses to $35 for a 30-day supply of insulin is removed.
  • HB 1222 – Awaiting governor’s signature: Requires certain large group health plans to provide coverage for hearing instruments.
  • SB 5179 – Has been signed by the governor: Makes changes to the Death with Dignity Act.

February 21, 2023: Legislative News

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On February 16 the Senate Health & Long-Term Care Committee voted to refer to the Senate Ways & Means Committee a substitute bill (instead of SB5169) concerning health care plans administered by the Public Employees Benefit Board (PEBB) that are available to Medicare-eligible retirees. The substitute bill dropped the requirement that the PEBB offer the Uniform Medical Plan (UMP) Classic Medicare plan. (This change does NOT affect current or future retiree medical benefits.) But the bill retained the requirement that the PEBB gather feedback from employees and retirees regarding the medical insurance needs of retirees and look for less costly government self-insured plans with benefits that are equal to or richer and with more affordable premiums than UMP Medicare Classic. The bill requires the PEBB to report to the Legislature by December 1, 2023.

Friday, February 24, is the cutoff date for bills with a fiscal impact to be referred out their committee of origin in order to stay alive in this legislative session. Several bills that UWRA is following still need to be voted out of committee of origin.

As an independent 501(c)(3), UWRA is legally permitted to engage in legislative advocacy. No state resources are used for legislative advocacy work.