COMMENTARY: New legislation pays off in wallet, long-term care, and nutrition

COMMENTARY: New legislation pays off in wallet, long-term care, and nutrition

By Cathy MacCaul

In a flurry of activity during the two-month legislative session, Washington lawmakers introduced almost 1,200 bills. Fortunately, AARP Washington lobbied fiercely for a fraction of those, tracking fifteen bills across the House and Senate. While we didn’t move all the legislation that we had hoped, our priority bills made it past the finish line. The governor has signed or approved bills creating an automatic savings program for Washington workers, eliminating surprise billing for ambulance services, re-introducing co-living to the state, expanding portability for the state’s long-term care insurance programs, and securing funding for critical nutrition programs. 

  • Research by Pew Charitable Trust finds that having access to payroll deductions makes people 15 times more likely to save and 20 times more likely if it is automatic. On March 28, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation to create a new automatic savings program. It will help the 43 percent of Washington’s private-sector employees who can’t save for retirement from their regular paycheck. Washington Saves is a voluntary program that allows workers to contribute directly from their paychecks to a retirement account, regardless of who they work for. They would always control their contribution level and could opt-out any time. These accounts are also portable, meaning workers can continue saving even if they change jobs or move out of state.
  • A 2023 study by the state insurance commissioner found that ambulance rides are the only emergency service for which consumers are at risk for surprise billing. On average, the part of the ambulance bill patients were responsible for was more than $500 for emergency trips and more than $1,000 for non-emergency service. In a medical crisis, no one should worry about whether their insurance will cover the cost of the ambulance. With the new legislation, Washingtonians will be protected from charges for out-of-network healthcare services by prohibiting surprise billing for ground ambulance services.
  • AARP state offices nationwide have championed legislation for over a decade to create more affordable housing options. With the passage of House Bill 1998, a once-common housing option is revived by setting standards to legalize co-living homes statewide. Co-living homes—think micro-apartments, often with a kitchenette and access to larger shared kitchens and community spaces—are a low-cost option that disappeared over the last decade due to restricted zoning laws. Co-living homes are desirable for people in a variety of stages of work and life, including older adults looking to downsize.
  • We also celebrate a significant change to Washington’s long-term care benefit program. A path to portability has been on our to-do list since the legislation initially passed in 2019. In 2022, we allowed those near retirement to access 10 percent of the set benefit of $36,500 for each year they worked before retirement. With the passage of House Bill 2467, we have added portability to WA Cares. Washington workers can access benefits through the state’s new long-term care insurance program, WA Cares Fund, even if they leave the state for a new job or to retire.
  • Rounding out our priority legislation, AARP pushed legislators to extend funding for Washington’s Area Agency on Aging nutrition programs, which were on the brink of losing funding that helps them serve nearly 1.4 million meals for 18,686 seniors and people with disabilities. With rising food prices, healthcare expenses, prescription drugs, and other necessities, too many families struggle to pay bills and have healthy food to eat. While we didn’t get as much money as we hoped and could only extend funding for one year, these programs will continue to provide hot meals at community sites, senior center food pantries, mobile food pantries, meals on wheels, and other nutrition services.

Amidst the fast-paced 2024 session, AARP Washington’s focused efforts have yielded significant victories for residents across the state. As we celebrate these milestones, we’re energized to continue advocating for policies that promote prosperity and security for all Washingtonians.

Cathy MacCaul is AARP Washington’s advocacy director.