5 Things Washington: Universal care workgroup, Detailed Agenda, Staffing shortages

Last month, we launched our new Atlantic edition, covering Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Florida. We are also planning our new 2021 State of Reform Federal Policy Conference coming up in April. It’s a huge step for us — one not without significant risks, as you might guess.

In 2021, we’ll add six new states, growing to cover 15 states in total. This includes a new Midwest edition starting in January. So, if you know folks who might want to plug into State of Reform in those markets as we get our feet underneath us, I’d consider it a very warm Christmas present to have you connect me with them! That word of mouth connections is how we’ve grown State of Reform since day 1.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Update from universal care work group

The Universal Health Care Work Group provided a preview of their final report to the legislature during a Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee meeting last week. During the meeting, the committee heard details on plan design, cost, and revenue impacts for three different coverage models aimed at creating a universal health care system in Washington.

Models A and B would offer standard benefits to almost all Washingtonians – but one is state-administered and the other is state-delegated to private insurers. Model C is a “close the gap” option which seeks to provide coverage to those with limited access to traditional health coverage, such as undocumented immigrants. This slide deck offers details on each model. The work group will hold its final meeting (streamed here) on Dec. 9 at 1pm.


2. Appreciate this week for what it is

We are on the cusp of a tremendous leap forward in vaccine science, which is something that our gratification-now culture doesn’t fully appreciate. It took 5 days from sequencing the virus genome to the vaccine design. Just 5 days! Thursday, emergency use authorization is expected for Pfizer’s vaccine. First vaccinations are expected the next day.

It took four years for the mumps vaccine to be developed, which was previously the fastest development of a vaccine ever. This moment is equivalent to landing on the moon for vaccine science. But with no images, no historic quote upon landing, and no visionary call from a martyred president (Kennedy), it’s not a moment likely to be fully appreciated or seared into our collective memory.

But, in the perhaps unpolished word choice of President-Elect Joe Biden, upon the passage of the ACA in 2010, this is a big deal.


3. Detailed Agenda out this week!

On Thursday we’ll release our list of speakers lined up for the 2021 Washington State of Reform Virtual Health Policy Conference. It’s a very good list with some of the most thoughtful folks in Washington health care joining us on January 6th-7th. Be sure to take a look at the Topical Agenda for Day 1 here and Day 2 here to get a feel for the day.

Ahead of that, I wanted to highlight one panel that is particularly important during the COVID pandemic. Joining us on our “What is the status of our mental health?” panel will be Sen. Manka Dhingra, Chair of the Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee, Dr. Jim Polo, Executive Medical Director at Regence BlueShield, Dr. Sasha Waring, Medical Director at Molina Healthcare, and Tom Sebastian, CEO at Compass Health. This is just one of 24 different breakout sessions that we’ve brought together, so be sure to register today to join in on this can’t miss event!

4. A view from inside the beltway

With a new administration and a closely divided Congress, DC-based State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta reasons it will be difficult to pass controversial measures on a partisan basis. In his latest column for State of Reform, Capretta outlines what the current political landscape might mean for health care policy in the Biden era.

He says drug pricing and surprise billing may be areas for bipartisan progress, but he doesn’t expect to see legislation lowering Medicare’s age of eligibility to 60, despite what was outlined in the Biden-Sanders unity agenda. Capretta also anticipates Biden will make a push for a public option starting in January, but that he may need to rely on state initiated plans, like Washington’s, to develop a “quasi-public option” that would have a better chance of surviving political scrutiny.


5. Staffing shortages during COVID

While the shortage of PPE was a limiting factor in providing care at the start of the pandemic, the shortage of doctors, nurses, and staff appears to be a growing strain in delivering care. HHS reported that over 1,000 hospitals across the county are “critically” short on staff, including 11% of Washington State hospitals reporting shortages.

DSHS announced last week it will use $1.3 million in CARES Act funding to send six “Rapid Response Crisis Staffing teams” to long-term care facilities facing staffing shortages due to surging cases of COVID-19. According to DSHS, over 400 of Washington’s 4,100 facilities are reporting active cases among residents or staff.