March 2021 e.Bulletin

Greetings to all! Well, March has been in like a lion and going out with some... skunk cabbage! There’s progress on several important bills but alas, also some whiplash, with a significant striking amendment to our priority legislation, the Universal Health Care Commission.  

There are causes for celebration though! We’re happy to know that Washington State is meeting or exceeding its targets so far on COVID-19 vaccinations, with over 3 million doses given, and more than one-quarter of Washingtonians have initiated their vaccinations.  We’re so glad to see federal help ramping up vaccinations in Yakima, providing an additional 1200 doses a day for six weeks to a community whose agricultural workers have been hard hit and underserved.

As we leave Women’s History Month, we’d like to highlight Dr. Virginia Alexander, (born 1899) a pioneering Black doctor and public health expert whose work was influenced by observing race-based health disparities as a function of inequality of social conditions and discrimination in health care settings. She supported a national health insurance bill in 1939! She did so much more, please do read about Dr. Alexander’s inspiring story and legacy.In_This_Issue_Bar__(4).png

  • Legislative Update as we passed the March 26 cutoff to pass bills out of policy committees and approach the April 2 cutoff for fiscal committees.
  • One important reason why we need our state to be the purchaser of health care: to get the “Just Right” prices of health care.
  • Call to Action: get the latest action alerts on bills!
  • News and Commentary
  • Upcoming Events: We can’t wait to engage with you, our supporters, friends, and curious onlookers,  as we have a one-hour Zoom conversation April 14 at 7 pm with Dr. David Belk, author of The Great American Healthcare Scam: How Kickbacks, Collusion and Propaganda have Exploded Healthcare Costs in the United States


.The legislative calendar is moving along, with less than a month left to the finish line.

March 9 was the cutoff date for bills to pass their houses of origin.  March 26 was the last day to pass bills out of committee and read them into the record on the floor, from the opposite house for the policy committees, and April 2 is the fast-approaching last day for the fiscal committees to pass bills.  Right now the Legislature is working on passing the state budget, and this will comprise most of their work for the remainder of the session. Most of the bills we are supporting have significant budgetary implications and are set for public hearings in Appropriations and Ways and Means this week.

April 11, 2021 is the last day to pass opposite house bills (with some exceptions related to initiatives and budgets). April 25, 2021 is the last day for the regular session.

So what’s the latest on the bills we’re tracking? 

Bill Number/Title

Status

What’s Next- TAKE ACTION

2ESSB 5399 Creation of a universal health care commission.

Passed House Health Care and Wellness with bipartisan support. Significant striking amendment dramatically alters bill. March 24
See here for more info 

Appropriations public hearing March 31, 1:30pm  HCFA-WA testifying “Pro” on House Version, with amendments

Submit written testimony by April 1, 1:30 pm

2ESSB 5377  Increasing affordability of standardized plans on the individual market.

Passed House Health Care and Wellness with amendment March 24

Appropriations public hearing March 31, 1:30pm
HCFA-WA testifying “pro” on eligibility requirements and appropriation. (See blog

Submit written testimony by April 1, 1:30 pm

ESSB 5203 Producing, distributing, and purchasing generic prescription drugs.

Passed House Appropriations with bipartisan support with amendment, March 31

Scheduled for executive session in Appropriations March 31 1:30 PM

E2SHB 1272 Health system transparency

Passed House Health Care and Wellness with amendments March 26

Ways and Means Public Hearing 4/2 1:30 pm

sign in pro

submit written testimony

live remote testimony

E2SSB 5052 Creation of health equity zones.

Passed Health Care and Wellness March 17, referred to Appropriations March 19

Appropriations Public Hearing March 30, 1:30 pm 

SSB 5068  Improving maternal health outcomes by extending coverage during the postpartum period

Passed House Appropriations unanimously March 22

Placed on second reading.  Next stop: House Floor

 

We're very pleased that our requested amendments were incorporated:
Our #1 Priority Bill: 2ESSB 5399
- Creation of a Universal Health Care Commission has passed the House Health Care and Wellness committee but with an important striking amendment from Rep. Eileen Cody.  HCFA-WA policy team members testified in support before the amendment was introduced. Check out their testimony here:
Dr. Sherry Weinberg, Marcia Stedman, Elaine Cox

  • removing 4 of the original 8 legislators on the Commission
  • adding a chair to the Commission
  • providing an earlier deadline for the initial report

 Click/tap here for more on the amendment on 5399 and updates on the other bills we’re supporting.


Getting the "Just Right" Price for Health Care

Did you ever watch the game show “The Price is Right”?  It’s interesting to wonder if, instead of guessing the prices of fancy cars or dishwashers, contestants were asked “what’s the difference in the median price of a c-section in Kennewick vs Bremerton?” (Answer: If you said “$13,500, you’re a winner!!!)  or “How many times more expensive is treating a stroke in the highest billing hospital vs lowest billing hospital in WA?” (Answer: 3 times more expensive). And more importantly:  “What is the actual cost of this care vs what hospitals charge various payers?”

Washington state legislators understand the vital importance of bringing health care prices down and in line with actual costs, if we are to have a health system that covers everyone while ensuring quality, equity, and access.  The last few years have seen a flurry of bills aimed at giving the state more leverage to control health care prices. E2SSB 5399, the UHCC will play a significant role, as will E2HSB 1272 the Health Care Transparency bill, and ESSB 5203 the state drug purchasing bill.  But we still have a long way to go.

David Belk, MD, author of The Great American Healthcare Scam: How Kickbacks, Collusion and Propaganda have Exploded Healthcare Costs in the United States, provides an important perspective on what’s behind these crazy health care prices and how they can be better controlled.  We're so fortunate to have him discuss his findings with us at our next hour-long Zoom discussion meeting, April 14 at 7 pm. RSVP here. Please join us!

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Testify in upcoming final committee hearings!  See above table for links! Subscribe to one of our social media channels for up to the minute calls to testify and connect with your legislators on upcoming bills.

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Washington State

HCFA-WA’s Cris Currie, RN, has an Opinion Letter published in the March 21 Spokesman Review calling out state Senator Mike Padden (4th LD) on his vote against the Universal Health Care Commission bill, and being “out of touch on the reality of modern health care”.  Check out his letter here (for Spokesman-Review subscribers), reprinted here with permission.

This Yakima area hospital showcases the vulnerability of rural hospitals to financial instability, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pandemic shows importance and challenges of rural hospitals

8 minute video: Hidden Barriers- The persistent disparities in accessing WA health care.  A year into the pandemic, low-income people of color are still struggling to afford and access health care.  Small businesses often cannot cover employees, whose income falls too high for public benefits but still too low to afford private coverage.

Check out the other videos in the Hidden Barriers series here.

National

The American Rescue plan has passed.  It expands health coverage temporarily and will benefit uninsured Washingtonians, but allows continued government subsidization of high health care prices.
American Rescue Plan Could Significantly Enhance Health Insurance Coverage

The prices that private insurance pays providers  are much higher than what Medicare spends for the same care. This study shows overall health spending could be reduced by $350 billion a year, with employer plans saving $310 million, if private plans reimbursed at the same rate as Medicare.  While hospitals and doctors would oppose such cuts to their revenue, currently there is very little incentive or pressure to keep prices in line with costs, especially where hospitals are able to consolidate.
Limiting Private Insurance Reimbursement to Medicare Rates Would Reduce Health Spending by About $350 Billion in 2021

With their deep pockets, the healthcare industry holds disproportionate power and influence with legislators, and the health insurance industry, in particular, has hampered the path to affordable publicly financed universal health care for far too long. HR 1, The For the People Act, calls for restrictions on corporate campaign finance including:

  • Calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United
  • Public financing of small-dollar campaign donations with a 6:1 federal matching program
  • Putting sunshine on dark money campaign contributions

This bill passed the House and is now facing some stiff opposition in the Senate.
H.R. 1: The Path to Democracy in America


Upcoming Events

Wed, April 14, 7pm  

David Belk book discussion:“The Great American Healthcare Scam: How Kickbacks, Collusion and Propaganda have Exploded Healthcare Costs in the U.S.”  RSVP here!

Join us here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83086366227?pwd=S1NyQjhUUDF6ZU9pa0xuSE5VWnRlQT09

Dial in here by your location +1 669 900 9128 

Meeting ID: 830 8636 6227

Passcode: 393126


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 Editor: Elaine Cox ★ Graphics & Communications Specialist: Sydnie Jones 
★ Health News: Rich Lague  & Cris Currie  
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