The Stand

Seniors stand ready to support pro-worker legislation in 2021

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Lessons learned from 2020: We need access to affordable health care, reliable internet access, and our pensions protected.

 

By JACKIE BOSCHOK


(Jan. 11, 2021) — We have all learned a lot this past year and have been forced to face some ugly truths that may have gone ignored for even longer.

For me, three lessons from 2020 speak loudest. One, we need better health care, and greater access for vulnerable members of our community. The quality and availability of health care has been a long-simmering crisis in this country, which was brought into stark relief when our system of care had to stand up against a pandemic. We simply aren’t equipped to death with regular day-to-day needs, let alone public health catastrophes. Two, reliable internet access is essential to more parts of our lives than we could have ever imagined. And three, our economic and fiscal strength, as secure as it may look, is never guaranteed.

The pandemic and economic fallout has rocked all of us and, as I’ve written before, seniors have been one of the most impacted groups. Americans over age 50 represent 95 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. Assisted living facilities, the original epicenters of the outbreak, continue to require higher levels of staffing and more adequate PPE in order to handle both COVID-19 outbreaks and the vaccine rollout.

The Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans (WSARA) will continue to work with public health departments and Governor Jay Inslee’s administration to speed up distribution of vaccines to seniors, front line workers, and others as quickly as possible. This requires not only coordination between government administrators and civil society organizations, but regular updates on availability and accessibility. WSARA will remain a resource for older Washingtonians as more information becomes available.

As longtime champions for expanded and affordable health care access in Olympia, WSARA members will be advocating for stronger standards for workplace health and safety this session. But we know, too, that folks will inevitably get sick, and that patients shouldn’t have to choose between getting healthier and depleting their hard-earned savings. Prescription drug costs are out-of-control, a burden that falls heavily on seniors living on fixed incomes.

We believe that legislation by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) to tax unsupported prescription drug price increases is the kind of pro-consumer, pro-patient policy we need. The bill would utilize an independent unsupported price increase report, which examines some of the worst Big Pharma offenders – often brand name drugs that have been off patent for years, but game the system to protect their monopolies – to assess tax penalties on companies unnecessarily increasing the price of their medicines. This kind of price gouging not only harms individual patients, but the long-term fiscal strength of state health care programs for public workers and retirees, as well.

WSARA will also be a leading voice for expanded, affordable high-speed internet, ensuring that seniors have a seat at the table over negotiations around broadband access. Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac) has become a leader in this space, shepherding a working group to examine these issues and introducing the Digital Equity Act, which would establish a state office of broadband, require telecom corporations to offer higher speeds and reach into underserved areas, and establish a grant program to improve access, skills training, and digital literacy. For seniors now dependent on telehealth to reach doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, as well as their friends and family, these are tenets of a healthy society. Digital connectivity is essential to bridging the generational and physical distance divide.

Finally, WSARA will fight to ensure that promises made to public workers, in the form of pensions and other retirement security programs, are kept. These commitments were made through solidarity and strength at the negotiating table years ago. They should be viewed as chiseled in stone. As we have seen, seniors who can depend on a secure retirement provide economic resiliency to communities in times of economic recession. They can spend, support local businesses, and generally put money right back into their communities.

We believe that the legislature should strongly consider new revenue sources on the wealthiest individuals and corporations, rather than cut pensions or essential services, in order for the state of Washington to honor its guarantees to the hard-working men and women who served it for years. This must include pension protections for furloughed workers and those participating in the state’s Shared Work Programs.

In times of darkness, true leaders emerge, and older Washingtonians are ready and willing to support those who will fight for good policy when it’s needed most.


Jackie Boschok is the President of the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans. Learn more about WSARA here.

Short URL: https://www.thestand.org/?p=94344

Posted by on Jan 11 2021. Filed under OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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