5 Things Washington: Health policy update, Coronavirus, Sen. Manka Dhingra

We’re in week three of the legislative session. While it’s an active one on health policy, it sort of makes the activity of the 2019 session appear all the more herculean.

AWHP Exec Director Chris Bandoli said at our recent conference that these short sessions are often the place where initial ideas are floated in preparation for a big push next year. There is a sense of some of that on topics ranging from a guaranteed basic income to increased oversight of pricing in heath services. We’ll see…



With help from Emily Boerger and Madeline Shannon



1. Check out the keynotes from State of Reform

We captured a lot of great content at our 2020 Washington State of Reform Conference, much of which is now available for your review. Among the day’s highlights was this conversation with former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, MD, on his work in re-shaping the national health care discussion. We also heard from Dr. Jürgen Unützer, Professor and Chair in the Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UW, who took a deep dive into behavioral health care in Washington State and the road ahead.

We were also honored to host Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, MD, to talk through Hawaii’s innovative approach to connecting housing and health care. During his keynote, Green discussed the work, which would make housing a covered benefit for the chronically homeless. He also talked through his recent trip to Samoa to support a vaccination campaign against the measles outbreak there.

2.  Video: Sen. Manka Dhingra

Sen. Manka Dhingra represents Washington’s 45th Legislative District in King County. Dhingra is the Chair of the Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee, Vice Chair of the Law & Justice Committee, and is a member of both the Health & Long Term Care Committee and the Ways & Means Committee. She joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to discuss SB 5720 – a bill she is sponsoring that would make changes to Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act.

“I’m very excited about my civil commitment bill – it’s taking a look at our Involuntary Treatment Act. It’s something that we haven’t looked at comprehensively for decades. And so, this really takes a look at the entire makeup of the statute, cleans out language that is no longer relevant, and really makes sure that we’re addressing the problems so that the people who need this high level of care can actually get access to it, and the people who don’t meet that criteria aren’t the ones that are scooped up in it.”


3.  Context for the coronavirus in Washington

By now, you’ve heard about the Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV), with the first confirmed case in Snohomish County. There are currently 8 “persons under investigation” in Washington who are possibly ill with the new coronavirus but are awaiting test results, and there are 67 individuals being monitored across the state who have potentially been exposed to the virus. While the CDC states that the immediate health risk to the general public is low in the US, some experts studying the virus predict that it may no longer be feasible to contain it.

But, context is important. So far this season, there have been approximately 15 million flu illnesses, 140,000 hospitalizations, and 8,200 deaths from the flu, according to the CDC – and we’re only half way through the season. On the other hand, the Washington State Dept. of the Military (didn’t know we had one of those, did you?) has now activated a 24-hour response center, mobilizing to support a response to a potential surge in infections. Anytime the military is involved in a public health crisis is worth noting…

4. Health policy moving this session

Several pieces of health care legislation may move before cutoff this year. HB 2294 addresses violence against care givers, like nurses. The bi-partisan bill HB 2662 will likely be exec’d out on Friday. It caps the out of pocket payment for insulin at $100 for a 30-day supply. A bill regulating PBMs and pharmacy pricing has a hearing today in the House

HJM 4014, which would have the state ask the federal government to include dental care in Medicare coverage, was heard in the House Health & Wellness Committee yesterday. Two bills concerning opioid abuse disorder and treatment, HB 2335 and HB 2337, are both undergoing public hearings in the House Health & Wellness Committee Jan. 31.


5.  OIC supports court case over graduated income tax

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner filed a amicus memorandum in the State Supreme Court Jan. 17 asking the Court to hear the case Michael Kunath vs. City of Seattle. In the court document, the OIC expresses support for a graduated income tax, saying it could help stabilize the insurance market.

The OIC goes on to say in that motion that a graduated income tax could help the state provide essential government services and that previous state Supreme Court decisions barring a graduated income tax were incorrect. Representatives of the OIC said the office wants the state to have the largest range of tools possible for stabilizing the insurance market in Washington.