Goal of new legislation: Ease consumers’ financial concerns

May 4th, 2022 | By | Category: Personal Finance/Consumers

This year’s 60-day session of the Washington Legislature included efforts to help older adults hold onto as much of their income as possible–paying for hospital visits, expanding senior property tax exemptions, the cost of long-term care, and helping digital users thwart online scams. Cathy MacCaul, AARP Washington’s advocacy director, reports what came of those focuses:

Charity care (House Bill 1616)

About two-thirds of individuals who file for bankruptcy cite medical debt as a key contributor. Charity-care laws require hospitals to forgive some or all out-of-pocket costs for essential healthcare to low-income patients. But Washington’s law only covered those who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The passage of HB 1616 will strengthen Washington’s social safety net for low-income residents by expanding access to those who make up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. More information on the new income guidelines is available at CharityCare@doh.wa.gov or 360-236-4210.

Personal Needs Allowance (Senate Bill 5745)

50,000 Washingtonians receive Medicaid-funded in-home care. The Personal Needs Allowance (PNA) is the income that a Medicaid recipient can keep after paying co-pays. Washington’s PNA rate was $1,074 a month, far lower than the national average.

New legislation more than doubles Washington’s allowance to $2,382. This means fewer people will have to choose between paying for their care or necessities like food, rent, and utilities.

Senior property tax exemption.

Changes to the state’s senior property tax exemption program have expanded the number of deductions taxpayers can take to determine if they are eligible. Older adults and those with disabilities can deduct out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, homecare, Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance premiums, long-term care insurance, and medical equipment. To be eligible, property owners must be at least 61 years old or disabled, a veteran with an 80 percent service-connected disability, or the surviving spouse or domestic partner who is at least 57 and was married to someone previously receiving the exemption.

Digital navigator fraud training.

The COVID pandemic forced many to rely more than ever on the Internet for food, medicine, doctor visits, shopping, and social connection to family and friends. Digital navigator services help new Internet users get online and support individuals seeking work, families supporting students, English language learners, Medicaid clients, people experiencing poverty, and seniors. The services will include a hotline to call during standard business hours for assistance or schedule an appointment with a digital navigator, and ongoing digital skills training. More information is at connect-wa.org or 800-216-1132.

WA Cares.

In December 2021, the Legislature paused the start of WA Cares to make improvements to the long-term care program. The original legislation had a narrow path for those who would retire before the 10-year vesting requirement to be eligible. Including benefits for near-retirees was the number one priority for AARP. Under House Bill 1732, more than 1 million near-retirees are now covered for services that can keep people in their homes as they age. Washington workers born before 1968 will qualify for partial benefits on a pro-rated basis, which equals 10 percent of the $36,500 benefit for each year they have paid into the fund.

Cathy MacCaul, an advocacy director for AARP, says Washington’s Legislature took steps this year to help make life more affordable for older adults.

Source: AARP WA (www.aarp.org/wa).