Washington’s Legislature should not pass a problematic bill that would increase the cost of delivering in-home care and decrease transparency.
Washingtonians are paying a heavy price for an ideological war between the conservative Freedom Foundation and a powerful union representing in-home care providers.
Following a 2014 court ruling giving these quasi-public workers the choice not to pay union dues, the foundation is on a crusade to inform them of their options.
The union, SEIU 775, and its allies in state government have responded with measures to shield the identity of these employees and increase SEIU’s presence in the state human-resources system.
This push for opacity diminishes the ability of Washington residents, including recipients of public care, to hold government accountable.
It also explains why the Legislature is wasting precious time during its short 2018 session trying to erode the state Public Records Act and conceal the birth dates of public employees.
And it sheds light on the problematic Senate Bill 6199, which would create a new layer of bureaucracy in the Department of Social and Health Services costing the state at least $11 million per year.
The bill proposes outsourcing employment of roughly 34,000 individual care providers to a private vendor. DSHS pays these providers to help people who are living at home, eligible for services and needing Medicaid to help pay for care.
Outsourcing might be interesting if it would reduce costs and add efficiencies, but vendors told DSHS they will spend 40 percent more than the state to provide the service.
The state would end up spending at least $22 million more per biennium once the change is made. That’s money that could be spent increasing services for those in need.
There are other potential costs. DSHS said the vendor may decline to use a new payroll system that cost the agency millions.
Why would this even be considered?
Could it be because the maneuver would further sidestep disclosure rules, fulfilling the union’s quest to obscure public information about these employees?
That’s because for disclosure purposes, the employer would no longer be DSHS, but a new, private entity inserted between the agency and the workers. This would bolster disclosure exemptions created in 2016 by the SEIU-backed Initiative 1501 and reduce visibility of contract negotiations.
Bill Moss, DSHS assistant secretary for aging and long-term support administration, said the change was proposed because it’s getting unwieldy to manage all the information and respond to questions from providers in a field with constantly evolving regulations.
He and the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, make a good case that DSHS must improve the way it interacts with individual providers.
A spokesperson for SEIU declined requests to comment but, when pressed, referred to testimony of a member, who said case managers are overloaded, which can slow their response.
But there should be ways to improve the organization’s productivity without a costly new layer of bureaucracy carrying a strong odor of political favoritism.
Lawmakers should direct DSHS to explore making its management of these employees more efficient by using software and services common in the business world.
If the Legislature proceeds with SB 6199, it should make changes to affirm that its goal is not to assist SEIU by further undermining the Public Records Act.
It should include language stating that any intermediary is subject to all disclosure rules, just like DSHS. Sensitive information is already protected by existing exemptions in the disclosure law.
This is needed to clarify that revisions to the DSHS employment system are to benefit the public and not powerful special-interest groups. More transparency and efficiency should be the goal, not less.
Washington should be proud of its progressive system of delivering in-home care via individual providers. It’s a shame that it’s now a political football in a larger fight over notifying workers of their options. Legislators shouldn’t make it worse with SB 6199.
Information in this article, originally published Feb. 7, 2018, was corrected Feb. 14, 2018. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that DSHS pays providers to care for persons who live at home, are eligible for services and who need Medicare to help pay for care. Those persons rely on Medicaid not Medicare.