Q&A: Rep. Laurie Jinkins on the LTCTA and the 2019 session
Rep. Laurie Jinkins represents Washington’s 27th Legislative District, which covers most of northern Tacoma. She chairs the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee and sits on the House Appropriations and Health Care & Wellness Committees.
This session, eight bills Jinkins prime sponsored passed the full Legislature, including the Long-Term Care Trust Act (LTCTA), a first-in-the-nation bill establishing a public long-term care benefit. To catch up on the LTCTA, read State of Reform’s coverage of the bill’s first public hearing, its advancement out of committee, and its House floor vote.
Reporter Sara Gentzler caught up with Jinkins three days before the 2019 legislative session ended, to hear her thoughts on how session went. While the interview is broad in scope, originally featured on our sister site Washington State Wire, most of the bills Jinkins discusses are health care-related.
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Sara Gentzler: After the LTCTA’s first public hearing, you told me you were “way more over-the-moon about this bill” than you “probably should be.” As far as I can tell, it passed, largely, in its original form — at least in terms of the premium and the payout.
Laurie Jinkins: Yeah, a lot of the changes in the Senate were just about who oversees the actuarial side. I felt very comfortable with the way the original bill was drafted; honestly, I felt a little bit like people were saying, “And more actuaries, and more actuaries…” and that’s kind of like saying, “And more lawyers, and more lawyers…” to disagree. But, that’s OK. I want to make sure we have a solvent system.
There were two substantive changes: It had been that you could qualify by working 10% of full-time or more, and they changed it to 25% of full-time or more. Which, I think, is fine.
Interestingly, when we were going over the draft bill and the premiums, when the first recommendation was 10%, I thought it seemed really low. But the actuaries showed us that, in their modeling, almost everybody ends up qualifying for their insurance in their early years of work, when almost everybody in Washington is working full-time. There’s virtually no one — I mean, there are people, but — who would qualify just working 10% of full-time. And it only changed the premium by something like .01 of 1%. So, my theory was: If what you want is more people to have access to long-term care insurance, you should be willing to pay .01 of 1% to give more people access. That’s why we chose it. The Senate wanted people to work 25%. So, OK.
The other amendment is more troubling to me, because of what we know about the way private long-term care insurance works. The amendment lets somebody opt out if they have private long-term care insurance. It’s, administratively, very difficult to do that. And lots of people buy private long-term care insurance — which is, essentially, a failed market in Washington State — maybe, in their forties. As they reach retirement, we’ve seen a lot of premiums start to go up in a way that people cannot keep it. So, they’ve opted out of paying in, they get to a space a year or two before retirement where they won’t be able to vest with the long-term care insurance program we just adopted, and they don’t have their private insurance anymore because of cost.
I don’t like that amendment very much, but I agreed to see how it works.
SG: Do you think that will encourage people to enter the private market?
LJ: It’s very interesting. Early on, many people argued — and I don’t think we have a lot of evidence of this — that having the Trust Act will actually help stabilize our private insurance market, because people will probably buy it like they buy a Medicare Advantage plan. It’ll be a supplemental insurance, and this program will be the primary insurance. Again, we’ll see about that over time. But that’s a persuasive argument, I think.
I’m sorry, you’re already seeing that I am way too deep in the weeds on this…
SG: I mean, you’re the one who spearheaded this. What does it feel like to see that all the way through?
LJ: We’ve been so busy this week, I haven’t really been able to think about it.
I started crying in my floor speech. I got to vote for marriage equality, so I’ve gotten to vote for some things that I think actually change not just individual people’s lives, but, kind of, the world. I think this is one of those things. So, I feel great about having worked on it and having been able to vote for it. That’s at a macro level.
At a micro level, I think about my mother-in-law, who’s in long-term care right now. I think about the challenges we’ve had finding the right place for her and how much this would’ve helped her. I feel like I have this very personal experience, and then this very macro experience. I’m just super proud that we’ve done it, and I have every single confidence in the world that this is going to do nothing but help Washingtonians.
SG: Do you see it as your crowning achievement of the session? You’ve had eight bills pass, so I also want to hear the stories that aren’t being told about your seven other bills.
LJ: There is no bigger bill. I’ve been on the Joint Legislative Executive Committee on Aging and Disability since it was created. The very first meeting we had, I remember Barbara Bailey saying, “Why do we make people spend themselves into poverty before they can get care? That’s not right.”
We started trying to work on that right away. It took us awhile to figure out how to work on it, how to look at it. So, to see that kind of development over five years…We have 850,000 unpaid family caregivers in Washington State right now. All of those people are going to be helped. Everyone who’s aging is going to be helped. People over 85 are the fastest-growing demographic in this state. There’s just so many people that it’s going to help. And I don’t really care if a single one of them knows that this was my bill. I just care that people are going to have access to care and not have to spend themselves into poverty.
I don’t feel like any of my other bills are overshadowed. We’ve had tons of other great, amazing work done by lots of other people in both the Senate and the House. I certainly love all of my bills, but this has just been an amazing year, overall.
SG: What about in the Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee? Anything you’ve been especially proud of that’s come out of that committee?
LJ: I would say that all of the gun-violence legislation — that’s always been important to me. Critics often say we need to enforce current law. I thought I should really hear that, so I went back and we started looking at domestic violence and protection orders. Many of the big bills we passed this year are actually about making current law work.
The number one, highest-risk time for a woman in Washington State — in the United States — is the three months after they leave a partner who has engaged in assaulting them. Predominantly, they’re murdered with a firearm. So, saying to law enforcement, “It’s not discretionary anymore. If you go to a DV incident and there’s a firearm involved in that incident, you will temporarily remove it, right then…” It’s going to save lives. And that’s just about making a current law better and being more clear about how it’s supposed to be handled.
I think most of our gun-violence bills are related to that. We also banned ghost guns — that’s a totally new policy and great, too.
I had two health care bills. One that was particularly touching, because I knew the family. That’s HB 1099:
My friend Rachel’s son, Brennen, had been a page down here — he testified on marriage equality. He got out of high school, moved to Portland, and Rachel got a job nearby. He came home when he was 20 and said, “Mom, I think I have a drug problem. I think I might need treatment.” Rachel gets out her insurance policy — she’s a teacher — she got the top-of-the-line insurance policy for the family. Part of the reason she chose it was the whole sales pitch of “the right care at the right time,” and she was 100% covered for him to go inpatient and get treatment.
She called Kaiser, they did a whole intake and said it would be a 29-day wait, but somebody would call cancel, so to call every day and have a go-bag ready.
Meanwhile, he’s struggling with drug dependency, and he’s highly depressed. They called every single day. He never got in. On the 24th day, he left the house, went to a gun store, bought a shotgun, walked across the street, bought ammunition — within an hour of leaving his mother’s home, he was dead.
What Rachel found out after this, as she pursued information on Kaiser, is that only 47% of the time were they meeting their network adequacy requirements. Her whole point is: She would’ve chosen a different insurer.
We need to be able to know if we’re going to be able to get the care we’re paying for. This was Kaiser Permanente in Oregon; we have different standards here. But, I worked with Rachel to get a bill to the governor, one of the first bills he signed.
I’ve gotten the chance to work on some incredibly amazing stuff. That’s why this is the awesomest job in the world. Everyone in the world should run for office, and they should serve.
SG: Is there anything you’re holding onto for next session?
LJ: I would say my most disappointing bill was actually on HIV modernization, HB 1551. Our AIDS Omnibus Act was written 30 years ago, and it doesn’t, at all, reflect the treatment for HIV and AIDS nowadays. Twenty-five years ago, when there was no treatment for HIV at all, we criminalized transmission of the disease. It’s the only disease in the history of the state that we’ve ever done that to. And, I think that criminalization section is now one of the things that stopping us from being able to end AIDS.
Part of this bill was to repeal that. Unfortunately, the prosecutors were unwilling to do that and were really opposed to the bill. I’m absolutely committed to working on this over the interim. I tried to do a middle-ground bill this year and just bring it down — like, not make it a felony. I’m done with that. I’m absolutely committed to decriminalizing the transmission of what is now a chronic illness. It’s not an illness you want to have; but, we should not exceptionalize one illness, one disease that was based on discrimination, bias, and no one knowing anything about it. Now we know. We know a lot.
That’s probably my biggest disappointment. And I can’t comment yet on whether my capital-gains bill is going to pass, because I don’t know.
I keep telling people that legislative session is all about giving up hope. This year, for whatever reason, I just didn’t give up hope on anything. I just kept working on many, many things; and, it’s worked out pretty well. I have a feeling that, potentially, heartbreak is on the way in the next three days. But we’ll see. Nothing’s dead yet.
SG: Is there anything you’re looking for in the budget, specifically?
LJ: I mean, I worked a lot on the behavioral health budget, and I think the House and Senate worked really well on it. So, I think the investments on behavioral health are very important to me. Not just because I worked on them, but because we need to transform our mental health care system in this state, and what I think we’re trying to do is foundational to the transformation. I’m really looking for that.
I have little things that are specific. For example, in Pierce County, we have — Tacoma, basically, has — the highest rate and number of preventable hospitalizations in the state of Washington. The 29th legislative district is twice the state average. My district, the 27th, is almost twice the state average.
Last year, there was some money in the budget to begin a pilot project to have kind of a strike team in Pierce County to work on this. I’m hoping we get money this session to move that work forward.
SG: That covers my questions about session. But, I noticed your socks, and I know you have a #walegsox Twitter presence…I’m curious what’s behind that.
LJ: First of all, these are my budget socks.
This is actually kind of a funny story, I think. Reuven Carlyle was in the House. He and I sat close to one another on the floor, and he would always come in every morning with colorful socks on. He would pull up his pant leg and say, “Jinkins, what are you wearing?” And I’d always be wearing these plain, black, cotton socks…I started thinking, “Well, maybe this would be a fun thing to do: To start getting better, more fun socks.”
I started to think about it over an interim, and I thought, “You should actually get some fun socks, and then you can take pictures of them and it would be really nice, nonpartisan, fun thing to do.” You might notice, I never say whose socks they are — in part because a lot of them have swear words on them…
I just want it to be a fun, entertaining thing we do. In the first couple years I did it — and I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing it — I would have lobbyists who I’d never worked with before come up and show me their socks. I walk up and down the Republican side of the House and get pictures.
It’s been really awesome. The Senate frequently texts over socks to me that they’ve taken pictures of. And, I actually had the Supreme Court, one day, text me socks of the Supreme Court.
SG: So, it’s a campus-wide effort.
LJ: I think maybe we should move to shoes or something.
SG: Sounds controversial.
LJ: We’ll see, there’s only so many kinds of socks.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.