During Edmonds meeting, Larsen describes congressional activity aimed at helping seniors

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen met with a group of seniors at the Edmonds Waterfront Center Monday.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen met with an estimated 25 seniors at the Edmonds Waterfront Center Monday afternoon to provide a run-down of recent federal legislation that benefits older adults.

Larsen represents the 2nd Congressional District, which includes all of Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties, and the section of Snohomish County roughly between I-5 and Puget Sound.

“My district includes lots of space and lots of issues,” Larsen remarked. “Right now, I’m traveling through the district specifically to reach out to seniors and talk about the issues that matter to them.

“There’s lots of action right now in Congress with potential impacts on seniors,” he continued. “My focus is and has always been breaking down barriers to quality services and health care.”

He went on to reference the Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022, and how it caps the maximum out-of-pocket cost for prescription drugs at $2,000 for Medicare beneficiaries and allows Medicare to directly negotiate the price of drugs with drug companies. It also caps the price of insulin at $35 per month for those using Medicare.

The first 10 drugs were selected in August 2023, and the maximum fair prices are scheduled to be announced on Sept. 1 of this year. The drugs on this initial list were chosen because they’re in high demand, expensive and have had recent price increases. They include drugs targeting diabetes, heart conditions and Crohn’s disease.

“We know we’re on the right track because the pharmaceutical companies are suing the federal government over this,” he added with a laugh.

“We also tried to apply the $35/month copay cap on insulin to non-Medicare recipients, but it was shot down — so at this time only those on Medicare enjoy this benefit by law,” he added. “But interestingly many private-sector insurers are following suit and dropping to the $35 copay cap.”

A group of 25 attendees visited with Larsen Monday.

Larsen next moved on to some benefits under the PACT Act specifically targeted to veterans who had been exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances during the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. It has recently been expanded to include those exposed to Agent Orange during the Viet Nam conflict.

“We’re seeing an increased incidence of specific cancers from those exposed to the burn pits, where wastes containing carcinogens were incinerated,” Larsen explained. “If you develop these certain types of cancer and served in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is all the evidence the VA needs to approve your claim. So far more than 1.6 million claims have been filed nationwide, 36,000 in Washington State, and 3000 in my district alone. More than 60% of these have been approved.”

He then went on to talk about how he and other members of Congress are working to expand Medicare coverage for dental, vision and hearing – areas that are drawing particular attention among seniors.

In the audience was Suzi Haugen, a volunteer Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisor (SHIBA) who helped put some numbers to this. SHIBA is a free, unbiased and confidential service of the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. SHIBA volunteers help people of all ages and backgrounds with their Medicare questions and options. Learn more here.

According to her, the vast majority – 80% or more – of those contacting SHIBA ask about dental, and most of the remaining 20% about hearing.

“Out-of-pocket expenses are the big deal to the folks who call us,” she said. “People ask things like ‘should I spend $16,000 to get my teeth pulled?’ We have access to more than 50 Medicare advantage plans and can talk folks through and help advise them as to what’s best in their situation. We’re simply there to advise – it’s a different decision for every person.”

Suzi Haugen, a volunteer Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisor, explains how calls to their helpline focus on the rapidly expanding cost of dental care.

Next came questions from the audience.

The first questioner pointed out that the $1,500 yearly maximum on dental coverage under his Medicare advantage plan doesn’t come close to covering the cost of modern dental work.

“One crown and I’ve already blown through it,” he observed. “That needs to be fixed.”

Larsen replied that there is an effort in Congress during the current session to address this (HR 33) by amending the Social Security Act to provide for coverage of dental, vision and hearing care under the Medicare program. See more information here.

“Dental care is health care,” Larsen said. “Taking lifetime care of your teeth is critical, and not doing what you should to take care of your teeth has particular consequences in later life.”

Other questions concerned when the price cap benefits might be extended to medications for asthma and osteoporosis, actions being taken to address the fentanyl issue, Social Security and when its funding will run out, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of Medicare Advantage programs versus traditional Medicare.

The final question to Larsen asked what the three biggest issues are right now in the 2nd Congressional District.

“Number one is fentanyl,” Larsen replied. “Number two is transportation, and number three is affordable housing.

“We have tools to address the fentanyl problem, but unfortunately COVID slowed us down – but we’re recovering from that,” he added. “Overdoses are primarily fentanyl mixed with other substances such as heroin or methamphetamine – rarely fentanyl alone. But again, we need to build the momentum we had before COVID. And on affordable housing we need to make it more affordable for folks on the margins, get them into something stable, and then deal with the non-housing causes of homelessness.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. I was very impressed with Congressman Larsen. And thanked him for traveling throughout the District to discuss issues of concern to seniors. A fine presentation.

  2. I personally would prefer Devin Hermanson to Rick Larsen for our future. Rick has been totally ineffective as a legislator. Take the money and run motto, with no output.

  3. I was there also, asked him about the Washington state ferries, and how BC ferries do not have problems with obtaining new boats. Rick somewhat became unglued, saying that BC ferries is a small operation, that Canada is a very small country and must buy ferries built in other countries. He thought it was worth it to pay substantially more for boats made here. He did admit that the existing ferries are responsible for 93% of all the WA state government GHG emissions. He didn’t believe that the newer hybrid boats will do much good to reduce that, saying electrification will have a marginal impact.
    BTW, BC ferries has boats that hold 316 vehicles, far surpassing any in the Washington State ferry fleet.
    He had no idea what the legislative bill is, that is proposing adding dental, vision, and hearing to the Medicare plan, while he was saying that he is spending time on it.
    I am going to support the challenger to his seat In congress.

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