Health Care Victories in the 2021 Legislative Session
Calls to Action
Healthcare News and Commentary
Health Care Bills of the Month
Legislators credit HCFA-WA members and allies for sweeping healthcare victories in 2021
Health Care Victories in the 2021 Legislative Session
In June four of HCFA-WA's Health Care Champions talked about the significant health care legislation passed in Washington, acknowledging the crucial role of citizen advocacy in achieving those victories. Health policy reforms that had languished as mere bills for years, as well as new "wish list" policy bills, were passed and signed into law in this pandemic year. Here are some highlights. Watch the full video here.
Senator Emily Randall (LD 26)
SB 5399 - Concerning the creation of a universal health care commission
The commission will create immediate and impactful changes to Washington’s health care access and delivery system. It will also prepare the state for the creation of a unified financing system after the federal funds become available.
The commission is guided by the work of the 2019-2020 Universal Health Care Work Group. This group comprises four legislators, five state agency heads, and six members of the public, including at least one consumer representative and one tribal representative. HCFA-WA is actively advocating to fill both the legislative and the public member positions in this group with individuals whose views align with our mission of achieving high quality, sustainable, affordable, publicly financed, and publicly and privately delivered health care for all Washington residents.
5399 is the scaffolding that allows legislators to work with federal partners for waivers without requiring state legislative approval. We thank Rep. Macri and the House Health Care & Wellness Chair, Rep. Cody, who worked to make the commission permanent. Please look out for appointments to the commission.
SB 5068 - Extending health care coverage during the postpartum period
Postpartum Medicaid expansion is instrumental to the well-being of low-income families in Washington. This law expands Medicaid health care coverage from two months to 12 months, so that new parents are not forced to rely on only two months of health care coverage with their newborn.
Equity courses will not fix everything, but requiring medical courses to include a curriculum on health equity is a critical step. 5228 and 5299 acknowledge that we can provide health care coverage for everyone, but coverage alone will not bring about health equity if our health care system is still biased. These two laws were formed in coalition with medical students, the Washington State Medical Association, and organizations such as HCFA-WA.
Looking ahead to the 2021-22 legislative session: Supporting Sen. Frockt’s bill SB 5142 - Establishing the profession of dental therapist - is another strategy to address racial and ethnic disparities in health, as well as rural health care access gaps. Lowering the cost of medical training is also crucial, as providers use the cost of medical education to justify the high cost of providing health care. Making medical education affordable will also help diversify the pool of providers.
Senator Karen Keiser (LD 33)
SB 5052 - Concerning the creation of health equity zones
The expansion of postpartum health care from two months to 12 months points to the growing recognition of the incredible health challenges that many people of color, American Indian communities, people experiencing poverty, and immigrant populations face. These disparities are highlighted as the pandemic unduly impacts frontline workers (many of whom are from these populations), who can’t access testing and vaccine sites because they work when sites are open. The idea originated in New Jersey where a health equity zone with a very active health equity program, experienced lower COVID rates than expected. This situation inspired the idea to create health equity zones.
Health equity zones are a collaboration with schools, churches, rotary clubs and other groups to map almost on a block-by-block basis how to reduce health disparities. Prevention strategies are identified for communities with support from providers and public health officials. In addition, benchmark health metrics are established for diabetes, obesity, and other diseases and medical issues, as well as for maternal health.
The genesis for this idea came from a trip to Havana, Cuba, where Sen. Keiser learned that neighborhoods included local health care navigators on almost every block. These individuals check on neighbors on their block, to see how people are doing. As Rep. Cody says, “Sometimes, everybody needs a mom.”
Looking ahead to the 2021-22 legislative session: Sen. Keiser will reintroduce her prescription drug affordability bill, SB 6088, which passed the 2020 legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Inslee. Sen. Keiser is asking for our support, because pharmaceutical costs are out of control and “we can do better.” Check for updates as HCFA-WA follows this important piece of legislation.
Senator David Frockt (LD 46)
SB 5377 - Increasing the affordability of standardized plans on the individual market (Cascade Care 2.0)
This law mandates provider participation in the Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange). In the original bill, this was not mandated. As a result, many hospitals (including Providence, which has almost a third of the hospital beds in Washington), did not participate due to reimbursement rate caps. If large providers do not participate, there is no network that the Health Insurance Commissioner can certify, and without a network, there is no functioning Exchange. HCFA-WA would like to thank Sen. Frockt for his advocacy when the Washington State Hospital Association asked Gov. Inslee to veto Section 5 of the bill.
While there is continued opposition to Cascade Care 2.0, this law in fact benefits rural and essentially more conservative counties that do not have many affordable options on the Exchange. This forces rural Washingtonians with lower incomes to purchase substandard health insurance or go without. 5377 creates a state subsidy on top of federal ones for standardized plans on the Exchange. For example, a family with a single working parent earning $54k without employment based insurance can afford a Silver plan on the Exchange due to subsidies for both out-of-pocket costs and premiums.
Finally, this week, Nevada became the second state to pass a version of Cascade Care 2.0. Their bill differs substantially from ours, however. What this means is that our state still serves as the main experiment, with the spotlight on our policy and the lessons to be learned.
Looking ahead to the 2021-22 legislative session: The state has given local governments a wide array of tools for homelessness prevention, including behavioral health funding. Local governments, including Seattle, must do a better job of implementation.
Representative Nicole Macri (LD 43)
Budget victories: As one of the Vice Chairs on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Macri is pleased to share that we had some tremendous victories around health care. They are big! Health care-related highlights of the new 2021-2023 state operating budget include:
- $3.2 billion in increased investments in health care.
- $520 million for behavioral health care.
- $1.2 billion for vaccination and other COVID-19 response, helping to make Washington a national leader in vaccination rates.
- Long-term investments in targeted Medicaid rates, including primary care behavioral health care and idental care. While there is still a long way to go on Medicaid rates, this level of investment will help ensure more equitable access to care in these areas for low-income individuals across the state.
A big thanks to the Biden-Harris administration and the voters in the state of Georgia, which helped Democrats win the Senate, and provide Federal funding to states for enhanced health care benefits.
HB 1272 - Concerning health systems transparency
In order to receive a tax exemption, non-profit hospitals must deliver “a good to the community.” Often, we don't know what that is. Washington was lagging behind many other states, and as a result, we now require reporting on the charity care that hospitals provide. Health care consumers have many questions about expenses, and this area is a black box. This law requires detailed reporting on revenue and expenses, charity care, and the details of community benefits provided.
SB 5140 - Protecting pregnancy and miscarriage-related patient care
Washington has the highest rate of religiously affiliated hospital beds in the nation. As a result, patients often can’t get the full range of both reproductive health and end-of-life care. This law ensures that pregnant patients can receive the full range of care options, such as crisis care during an active miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and pregnancy termination, whether they are at a religiously affiliated hospital or a secular hospital.
SB 5313 - Concerning health insurance discrimination (providing gender-affirming care)
This law, also known as the Gender Affirming Treatment Act, ensures that transgender individuals receive life-saving, gender-specific care without discrimination. Such care may be considered cosmetic for non-transgender individuals, but is life-saving for transgender individuals.
Looking ahead to the 2021-22 legislative session: Plans are to reintroduce Medicaid look-alike coverage for non-eligible immigrants, including undocumented residents of our state.
Calls to Action on Federal Bills - courtesy of our partner organization Healthcare is a Human Right-WA.
To find your Congressional Representative using your zip code, go here.
To send an email to your Representative or Senators, click on the underlined name in the actions below.
To call your Representative or Senators, call the Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121
1 - Co-Sponsor the State Based Universal Health Care Act of 2021, H.R. 3775
Ask your Rep to co-sponsor HR 3775, the SBUHC Act of 2021.
➤ All Washingtonians: A State Based Universal Health Care Act companion Senate bill is expected soon. Urge Senators Murray and Cantwell to support WA's new Universal Health Care Commission as our state embarks on carrying out its new commitment to covering all Washingtonians.
2 - Lower Prescription Drug Prices + Expand Medicare
Ask your rep to: "Please support lower drug prices, improving Medicare benefits and lowering the eligibility age, as called for by 155+ Congressional Representatives in their May 27th letter to the President. It is overwhelmingly popular with seniors. The time to act is now."
Thank your Rep for signing the May 27 letter.
3 - Co-Sponsor the Medicare for All Act, H.R. 1976
➤ All Washingtonians: We must keep the pressure on the rest of the WA House delegation to join prime sponsor Jayapal and co-sponsor Smith in co-sponsoring HR 1976, the Medicare for All Act of 2021. This is the best and most economical proposal to provide comprehensive, affordable and equitable health care to everyone in our country.
Ask your Rep to co-sponsor the Medicare Act of 2021, H.R. 1976.
Thank your Rep for being the prime and the original co-sponsor of HR 1976.
U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna’s State Based Universal Health Care Act introduced in Congress as HR 3775 This Act is critically important to the success of Washington’s newly-created Universal Health Care Commission. Please see our Call to Action!
- US Supreme Court rejects Trump-backed challenge to Obamacare - BBC News
- New bill has been signed to allow generic prescription drugs in Washington State - NBC RightNow
- 5 Things Washington: Q&A w/Rep. Eileen Cody, Health equity, Kreidler’s credit score ban - State of Reform
Health Care Bills of the Month
First they faced the virus. Now come the medical bills - The Baltimore Sun
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The perfect gift for every universal health care supporter, any time of year: Everybody In, and Nobody Out t-shirts, winter scarves, and umbrellas.
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Health Care for All-WA