5 Things Washington: Uninsured rate, John Wiesman, Undocumented workers

Before COVID, our Inland NW event was always a bit more focused on Eastern Washington, while our Seattle event tried to explore issues facing the whole state. However, now that we’re in COVID, that’s changed.

Next month’s event has 24 breakout sessions over two days and is already on pace to have a much broader, more statewide group of attendees than a normal year. So, if you haven’t already signed up, get registered before pricing goes up. You can join us from your home or office, and save yourself the trip to the Convention Center!





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Morning Keynote with John Wiesman

The 2020 Inland Northwest State of Reform Virtual Health Policy Conference is coming up next month, so we are hustling to put together an agenda with over 70 speakers. Be on the lookout for our Detailed Agenda next week where we’ll highlight the speakers and descriptions for all 24 breakout sessions taking place on Sept 23-24.

Ahead of that, I want to feature one of the keynote speakers we have lined up. Secretary of Health John Wiesman, DrPH, will join us as our Morning Keynote on Sept. 23. Wiesman was appointed Secretary of Health by Gov. Inslee in April 2013 and has over 20 years of local public health experience. During the session we’ll learn from his experience dealing with public health during his time at the DOH, with a particular focus on lessons learned from the pandemic. He’ll be retiring at the end of the year, so this will be a great opportunity to hear from him before he heads off to a beach – socially distanced, of course.

2. COVID and undocumented workers

A series of recent announcements from Gov. Inslee’s office point to an increased focus on supporting immigrants and undocumented workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Inslee announced the launch of a $40 million Immigrant Relief Fund to support Washington residents who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic but who have not been able to access federal stimulus programs due to their undocumented status. DSHS has issued an RFP for a nonprofit to serve as the Program Administrator of the Fund.

Along with the relief fund, Inslee announced the COVID-19 Food Production Paid Leave Program which will provide $3 million to support certain food production workers who remain home when ill. And, a recently updated proclamation now requires agricultural employers to broadly test employees if over the course of two weeks there are more than nine positive COVID cases or if at least 10% of the workforce tests positive.


3. ICYMI: Leadership series on VM-CHI merger

In case you missed it, two weeks ago Dr. Gary Kaplan, Chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason Health System in Seattle, and Ketul Patel, CEO of CHI Franciscan, joined State of Reform for a conversation on the organizations’ Memorandum Of Understanding to explore forming a joint operating company. The two leaders discussed their partnership, the vision for the new health system, and how it all fits into the broader CommonSpirit framework.

Patel highlighted how incorporating VM’s focus on quality will be a benefit system-wide to CHI, and that CHI is ready to make significant financial investments to support the relationship. Kaplan addressed the merger implications for reproductive services and Death with Dignity care. “To be totally honest, I believe that we will not be doing pregnancy terminations and we will not be doing Death with Dignity,” said Kaplan, but he anticipates that other reproductive services, and LGBTQ health care, will continue to be a priority.

4. Could Murray head to HHS in Biden cabinet?

In an extensive New York Times report on how Vice President Joe Biden came to select Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, Biden was said to value having a personal relationship with his team and a placed an emphasis on coalition building. Also last week, some of my DC sources started telling me they were hearing Sen. Patty Murray’s name bandied about as a possible pick to lead the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

That’s a rumor worth watching. Biden and Murray go back to 1993 when she arrived in the Senate. He has campaigned out here repeatedly for her over the years, including as the headline for her “Golden Tennis Shoes Award” luncheon. Moreover, she is also the lead Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) where she has been the Democrat’s voice on health reform. That includes having built the most prominent health legislation in recent years, the Alexander-Murray compromise bill, though Sen. Mitch McConnell wouldn’t let it come to the floor.

5. The pandemic’s impact on health coverage

A recent OFM report assessed the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s uninsured rate, health coverage changes of newly unemployed workers, and changes in uninsured rates at the county level. COVID-19 kicked what was previously a slow rise in Washington’s uninsured rate into overdrive. At the start of 2020, the state uninsured rate was 6.7% (up from 6.6% in 2019). In May the rate peaked at 13%, but has since declined to 8.3% in the week ending August 15.

OFM’s latest report also shows significant variation in uninsured rates across the state – currently ranging from 4.2% in Lincoln County to 17.5% in Yakima County. The latest data from HCA shows that over 100,000 Washingtonians have enrolled in Medicaid since the pandemic began.