About 90 miles east of Jackson Hole in small-town Dubois, Wyoming, a quaint three-bedroom log home sits on 7 acres overlooking the nearby rolling hills. It gets chilly at night — sometimes in the low teens in early November. Despite that, patches of kale, cabbage, carrots and other produce grow out in a work-in-progress garden.
It’s a little slice of heaven, and for the last 17 months it has acted as the vacation home of Washington state Sen. Randi Becker, R-Olympia.
But not anymore.
With news earlier this year that Becker would not seek reelection to the Legislature after an 11-year tenure, the 72-year-old lawmaker and her husband, Bob, are making a quiet retreat to the Cowboy State.
“We fell in love with Wyoming a number of years ago when we were rockhounding because that’s our hobby and our love,” said Becker, who has an extensive career in health care. “We knew that at some point that we wanted to retire in Wyoming — we have traveled the entire state.”
“I believe so much in this country and I love the state of Washington, I’m a native to the state. It was hard to leave, but this is a new beginning and I’m looking forward to life at this point.” said Becker, the current senator of the 2nd Legislative District.
She has been a trailblazing lawmaker in the Washington Legislature to bring health care reform forward and has focused over the last few years on telemedicine health care legislation, which has helped clinics and doctors move forward as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its eighth month.
Her seat is expected to be filled by fellow Republican Jim McCune, who previously represented the 2nd Legislative District as a representative and who briefly worked alongside Becker.
“I hope that Jim McCune continues my fight to get a college in Graham,” she said. “I’m hopeful that he will continue that effort. We’ve got the ground, we’ve got initial startup money for a college that could be attached to the high school that’s being built out there.”
To Becker, this is retirement — since landing in Dubois, she said she’s joined a quilting club and has been busy getting personally acquainted with the community. She said she’s also been recently asked to serve on a local homeowners association board and a local medical clinic’s board of directors.
She’s declined both opportunities, she said, noting her plans to stay out of politics.
The upcoming 2021 legislative session in Washington is expected to be different in many more ways than one.
The Seattle Times reported recently that while the Capitol Building will largely remain open, much of the business usually conducted face to face starting in January will be done by teleconferencing methods, including voting and debating.
Becker is glad to not have to be part of that process. She said she expects most Republican senators to be in Olympia for committee days later this month, including herself.
“I’m not going to miss being in session next year where everything will be done remotely,” she said. “The one thing that (I’m) very concerned with is not shortcutting or shortchanging the people of the state of Washington in their voice in government. We’ve shared our concerns with the Democrats about that very issue, and this is about democracy for the people of the state of Washington, and that is something that’s very concerning to me.”
She added that while the Legislature has worked with remote testimony in the past, there are some districts that don’t have colleges or the appropriate venues to host forum testimony. That includes the 2nd Legislative District.
In the last few legislative sessions, Becker has worked to bring forward legislation to benefit the state’s expanding telemedicine programs.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine — or the remote diagnoses and treatment of a patient by way of telecommunication methods such as video conferencing — has become a vital tool in the way health care providers conduct business with patients.
In March, Gov. Jay Inslee signed two telemedicine-related pieces of legislation primary sponsored by Becker: Senate Engrossed Substitute Bill 5385, a revised bill that required equitable pay for physicians using telemedicine; and Senate Substitute Bill 6061, which established training standards and a first-in-the-nation program for telemedicine providers.
Both bills received near-unanimous praise in both the House and Senate.
“I really credit Randi with pushing telemedicine forward throughout the entire state,” said 33rd Legislative District Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, who’s worked with Becker closely on health care legislation in the Senate Health Care and Wellness Committee. “I’m just so pleased for her and the state that she was able to accomplish this step forward in the delivery of health care services ... They’ve always done it the old fashion way, but now, during a pandemic, we have a second way that’s much safer and more efficient.”
Keiser, who served formerly as the chair of that committee, said Becker was one of the most active lawmakers in legislation during their joint time serving on the committee.
“The medical world is the slowest to adapt to change than I’ve ever seen,” Keiser said, noting the pandemic’s impact on the way patients are treated. “Getting them to adopt telemedicine was a real culture change for them.”
Becker said that the focus when considering telemedicine legislation, and as well as with most of her health care-centered proposals, has always been to focus on the priorities and needs of the patient.
There’s currently no hospital in the 2nd Legislative District, Becker said, so the need for services that can connect patients to treatment is important to the health and well being of residents both young and old.
Becker recalled that, according to discussions with provider offices, the digital-based medium helped keep doctors offices open by allowing them to see patients through alternative methods.
“Telemedicine did save the buns for a lot of the providers out there,” she said.
But even with that, Becker said she’s noticed some health care providers attempting to shift to hosting their first visit with patients mostly through the use of telemedicines. While Becker has called telemedicine “the future” and a new route for physicians, she said she believes that there are limits to its benefits. It’s not a one-to-one replacement for an in-person visit.
“I think that we have to be really careful moving forward that we still protect that patient, and it’s not about the insurance company’s profit,” she said.
Shortly after her announced retirement, the Nisqually Valley News reported a story about the senator that included detail of her 2014 strike against a provision to create a publicly-accessible payer database for customers.
Premera Blue Cross, one of the state’s largest insurance agencies, had lobbied against the proposed legislation and later gave a total $4,600 to Becker’s reelection campaigns.
During a discussion with the NVN last week, Becker disavowed the paper’s characterization of the events, saying that she hasn’t taken money from anyone for anything. “I was bothered ‘cause that attacks my integrity and my honesty,” she said.
Becker explained that it was her first year in the Legislature. She said she’d noticed that a number of insurance industries were going bankrupt or leaving the state, and she noted that the Legislature was trying to go after their slimming reserves.
“The initial take on that was that I really felt we needed to make sure they had money until we saw how the Affordable Care Act affected them,” she said. “I wasn’t voting for Premera, I was voting for insurance companies — each and every one of them — to make sure that they had the money to pay their claims and etcetera.”
She noted that she accepted campaign contributions from a number of health care and insurance companies, including Kaiser Permanente, Regence BlueShied and United Healthcare.