Washington voters concerned about health care, retirement, economic and consumer protection issues affecting older people face an important choice in the Nov. 6 gubernatorial election. It pits Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, against former congressman Jay Inslee, a Democrat.
"Washington has been incredibly successful in designing long-term care services to keep people in their own homes," said Ingrid McDonald, advocacy director for AARP Washington. "We need the next governor to ensure that we continue in that direction, not drive people back to institutions through budget cuts."
AARP Washington has published a voters' guide featuring the two candidates' responses to questions about long-term care, budget issues, financial exploitation of seniors and retirement security.
In interviews with the AARP Bulletin, the two candidates said they would maintain Washington's well-respected home- and community-based long-term care programs. They also said they would provide more coordinated health care for poorer and sicker older people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. And both indicated they would try to restore long-term care funding cuts if possible.
But Inslee criticized McKenna for joining the lawsuit to overturn the federal health care law, which encourages more coordinated care and closes the Medicare prescription drug "doughnut hole." McKenna said he opposes only the law's requirement for everyone to buy health insurance. The law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Medicaid, the federal-state program that pays for long-term care and health care for the poor, the candidates disagreed over a national Republican proposal to cap federal funding and turn it over to the states as block grants. McKenna said it would give states an incentive to better control Medicaid costs. "Our state should be rewarded for effectively managing Medicaid expenditures." Inslee called it "a disguised attempt to reduce support for seniors."
AARP wants to preserve Medicaid as a right for older people who qualify based on disabilities or income.
On budget policy, AARP favors generating new state revenue through sales tax reform so the state can adequately fund public education without cutting safety-net programs for older people. Neither candidate supports tax increases, though both are open to ending some tax loopholes for business. Instead of tax hikes, each hopes to increase revenues through cost-saving government reforms and economic development policies that expand the economy.
On retirement security, both candidates pledge to fully fund state employee pension programs. But their statements suggest different approaches to pension reform. Inslee said he doesn't believe reducing middle-class benefits is the way to expand growth. McKenna has said he would consider moving new state employees from defined-benefit to defined-contribution retirement plans.
For private-sector workers, both men said they would consider proposals for the state to help small businesses set up retirement accounts for their employees. "Nudging workers toward new workplace savings accounts makes sense to me," McKenna said. "I'm open to public-private partnerships and I'm looking for other ideas as well," Inslee said.
For public-sector workers, McKenna wants to switch state employees to high-deductible health savings account plans, while Inslee favors standard comprehensive benefits.
Both candidates expressed strong support for programs that benefit seniors, including state agencies that protect older people from fraud, abuse and neglect. McDonald said both candidates have agreed to an AARP Washington request to host a summit meeting on aging to address the challenges the state will face as the 65-plus population swells over the next 20 years from 13 percent to 21 percent.
"We're on the cusp of a huge demographic shift," McDonald said. "The next governor needs to play a leading role in preparing society for the changed population."
To see the AARP Washington voters' guide, visit the AARP Washington website. To receive a printed copy by mail, call 1-877-926-8300 toll-free.
Harris Meyer is a freelance writer and editor based in Yakima, Wash.
Also of interest: Keep up-to-date with AARP election blog.