In January, the legislature will reconvene for 60 days to introduce and pass new legislation.

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In January, the legislature will reconvene for 60 days to introduce and pass new legislation and make adjustments to our two-year budget. Some key areas of interest to those 50 and older: Social Security’s personal needs allowance and restoring Medicaid funding for hearing devices. Also on the docket is exploring financing options to help people save for future long-term care needs and a proposal that would allow Washington counties to adjust qualifying income levels for programs like the senior property tax exemption.

Personal needs allowance

The Social Security personal needs allowance (PNA) is a set amount of money that people living in a medical facility — like a nursing home, hospice or rehabilitation health center — are allowed to retain for clothing, personal items and other incidentals. The current PNA of $57.28 was set in July 2008 and has remained static since. We’ve had several ups and downs in the economy since 2008 and the days of the Great Recession. Steps were taken during the 2017 legislative session, when Sen. Christine Rolfes passed a bill that would adjust the PNA yearly by a cost-of-living adjustment percentage. However, the adjustment is not retroactive to 2008.

Senior property tax exemption

The Puget Sound area is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom, which is causing housing prices to skyrocket. Seniors on fixed incomes are struggling to stay in their homes because of rising property taxes, as well as keeping up with rising rental costs.  In King County, a Senior Tax Exemption program exists but is underutilized because most applicants exceed the maximum household income of $40,000 to qualify.  AARP is in talks with the King County Assessor’s Office and the Washington Association of Counties.  Both are working to propose legislation that would allow for an adjustment of the $40,000 qualifying income level by county instead of one income qualifier statewide.

Medicaid and hearing aids

Studies have shown that people with hearing loss have a higher risk of depression, social isolation, serious falls and an overall reduced quality of life.  With an average price tag of $2,363 (per device), hearing aids are increasingly unaffordable for a large segment of lower and middle-income seniors.  There is a national effort to offer a low-cost hearing aid option but neither Medicare nor Washington State’s Medicaid plan covers adult hearing aids.  Washington discontinued Medicaid coverage of hearing aids in January 2011.  More than half of our United States offer coverage for hearing aids under Medicaid.

Long-term services and supports

LTSS provides aging adults and adults with disabilities the support they need to live independently, including help with personal care, medical assistance, transportation, meals and more.  Seventy percent of Washingtonians over the age of 65 will require some type of LTSS. However, long-term care is expensive and private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid provide little by way of relief.  The average lifetime cost of LTSS for those turning 65 today is $260,000, far more than many families have saved.  One potential solution to help offset the cost of care is called the Long Term Care Trust Act which would help finance LTSS via a payroll tax.

Other issues continue to rise to the surface including drug pricing transparency, changes in reverse mortgage rules and regulations, defined benefits and pensions, and medical debt.

AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. Access AARP’s Fraud Watch Network to get more information about how to protect yourself and your family.