McKenna, Inslee discuss health law with state's AARP members
Washington’s two top candidates for governor, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee, told AARP Washington members this week they want to protect programs for the elderly and get the new health care-reform law working.
McKenna had sued to overturn the new law, and he told nearly 12,000 AARP members in Friday’s telephone town hall meeting that he wants to see health costs reduced and more options for consumers to use Health Savings Accounts.
McKenna said the key is making the consumer own a share of the risk.
“The problem now is everyone acts like someone else is paying for health care,” McKenna said. “In fact it’s very hard to find out how much things cost” in medicine.
Inslee, who helped write a piece of the Affordable Care Act as a congressman in 2010, said he also wants to reduce costs, as well as the risk that patients don’t get covered.
Inslee also said he will fight to preserve the act’s features that end lifetime limits on coverage, close the so-called donut hole in Medicare’s prescription coverage and avoid tapping the elderly to fix state budget gaps.
Both candidates also spoke of wanting to preserve the state’s long-term-care system, which has done better than most states’ in reducing costs of nursing care by keeping loved ones in their own homes with an array of services.
Those statements went over well with AARP.
AARP state director Doug Shadel has said the state is facing a “tsunami of aging” over the next 20 years. He estimates the percentage of Evergreen State residents 65 or older will grow from 12 percent today to 20 percent by 2030.
AARP outreach director Ingrid McDonald said both candidates show they “get” the challenges ahead and understand the need for help to families that care for loved ones – and keep them out of nursing homes.
But at the same time, each candidates left AARP unconvinced he can put $1 billion more into state K-12 education programs over the next two years – which each has promised – without a tax increase or cuts to care for the elderly.
“I don’t think anyone is content or satisfied with how (each would) pay for a significant increase in funding for education,” McDonald said after the hourlong talks that let retirees ask the candidates questions by phone.
Both McKenna and Inslee talked of their familiar themes of making the budget balance. Each would streamline state government, boost the economy and repeal tax breaks that are no longer benefiting taxpayers – all to lower taxpayer costs and free up new revenue for schools.
But AARP did an unscientific poll of each audience about the best way to pay for the K-12 investments. Only 8 percent in the Inslee audience and 25 percent of the McKenna audience thought “savings and efficiencies” would do the trick.
Each time, according to AARP, participants said a combination of new revenues and savings from streamlining government was needed to pay for K-12 investments.
Inslee’s event Thursday drew nearly 14,000 callers. McKenna went the next day and drew nearly 12,000 more. More in the Inslee audience identified themselves as liberal than conservative, but a majority in both put themselves politically in the center.
On another emerging issue, Inslee’s campaign said he would support the complete expansion of the Medicaid program, which under the Affordable Care Act covers childless adults who have low enough incomes.
Most of the expansion is 100 percent funded by the federal government through 2016, and the state’s share tops out at 10 percent in 2020 for those who become newly eligible. But McKenna says the state faces a 50 percent share of costs for those who already are eligible for Medicaid and aren’t using it but would join the system.
McKenna and campaign aides have said in several settings that he wants to work with the Legislature to see how much this costs and how much Medicaid the state can afford.