Grassroots effort leads to good bill for seniors

There’s a saying often heard in the Legislature when lawmakers comment on a piece of legislation that has broad support — something that everyone agrees is the right thing to do. They say, "It’s a good little bill."

Legislation to help reduce health-care costs for seniors passed the Legislature this session and on Monday was signed into law by the governor. It’s not only a good little bill but also a prime example of how Washington state government works best to address real people’s needs right now.

Seniors came up with the idea for the legislation, seniors lobbied for it and the state’s largest senior organization endorsed it.

There are many hotly debated, arguably "larger" legislative issues highlighted on the front pages every day across the state. What we don’t often see, however, is news of a good little bill like this — legislation that is brought to a lawmaker by individuals for whom it will make the biggest difference, and, with the help of a state agency, is quietly and efficiently made into a good law for deserving citizens.

Endorsed by seniors, AARP Washington, health plans, Washington’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner and others, the new law will help seniors continue getting a break on the cost of their Medicare supplement insurance.

Seniors Charlotte and Bill Faust, who make their home in Arlington, brought their problem to the attention of their lawmaker. With their help, legislation was crafted and introduced to preserve the health-care coverage discounts that mean so much to them and their fellow senior citizens.

The resulting new law will allow insurance companies to again offer discounts on Medicare supplement insurance for various payment methods, including electronic fund transfers or annual installments. Spousal discounts are also approved.

Seniors grew concerned early this year when they realized the discount they had been enjoying was going away. An analysis by the state insurance commissioner’s office revealed that the discount couldn’t continue because the law required premiums to be "equal for all policyholders" of the same age groupings.

Seniors who testified on the legislation said that if they couldn’t get the discounts any longer, they’d pay at least $100 more a year for their health-care coverage because the price break saved them at least $9 a month. That may not be much to some, they said, but to them every little bit helps. And they added that the additional cost would effectively wipe out any Social Security benefit increase they would receive this year. It would also make it more difficult to afford health care services so important to their quality of life.

This new law has been called a ray of hope for seniors on a fixed income. We agree it’s a real helping hand for Washington seniors. And even though the bill may seem small in scope, considering all the other issues facing the state, in reality it means a great deal.

It’s satisfying to see so many people recognize the importance of this new law to seniors across the state. It’s exciting to know that they will again have the option of receiving discounts on their health insurance premiums. And it’s hopeful to see state government working so well for so many.

Who says state government can’t deliver a solution quickly in response to an immediate need? In addition to passing the bill into law, all the parties involved agreed it should be drafted with an emergency clause so that it takes effect right away and in time for seniors who are now renewing their Medicare supplement insurance policies for the year. This way, seniors can take advantage of a well deserved and greatly anticipated cost break on the cost of their medical insurance.

The fallout from other legislative battles may continue, but at least for the story of this "good little bill," all’s well that ends well.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves the 39th District in Northwest Washington and sponsored ESHB 2354. Ed Singler is president of AARP Washington. Mike Kreidler, a Democrat, is the state Insurance Commissioner.

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