5 Things Washington: Q&A w/Sen. Karen Keiser, “Covered lives assessment,” Vaccine rollout

The legislative session is underway. While members had to manage a few in-person votes yesterday to set the rules for the session, the rest of the 105-day session is expected to be virtual.

I am curious about how much pent up anxiety will get a voice in the session. As one of the only states in the country to not have had a special session, and with such great pressure on our community from the pandemic and economy, will there be a push to be heard among legislators ready to get to work? Or will there be an orderly session, where contentious issues are set aside in favor of the more necessary? We’ll see, but 24 hours in, things seem set on a constructive course.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Q&A with Sen. Karen Keiser

Sen. Karen Keiser represents Washington’s 33rd Legislative District. She is a longtime member and former Chair of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. She also serves as President Pro Tempore of the Senate. In this Q&A, Keiser discusses her goals for the 2021 session, the Long Term Care Trust, bipartisanship, and the new Biden administration.

Keiser highlights three bills as her top priorities: SB 5052, related to health equity zones; SB 5020, which would impose a tax on unsupported drug price increases; and the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act. On achieving bipartisanship, Keiser says, “We cannot just do slam dunks and have our will because [Democrats] have a slim majority. It doesn’t create long term stability. And if you want to make long term change you have to have long term stability. So bipartisanship is a goal. It isn’t an absolute, but it is always a goal.”


2. Health investments in the coming session

Sen. David Frockt and Rep. Drew Stokesbary agree that Washington State’s health care sector needs more investment. But, they just have different perspectives on how to pay for it. The two leaders discussed Washington’s post-pandemic economic stability during a panel session at the State of Reform Conference last week.

As it relates to Gov. Inslee’s “covered lives assessment,”  Stokesbary said it’s clear the new tax would be passed on to consumers, making health care more expensive. Frockt says compared to alternatives for financing, this option would spread the cost the widest and would have the least impact on consumers. Both, however, agree that foundational public health priorities lack adequate investment and that the root of the underinvestment is funding obligations related to the McCleary decision. Reporter Michael Goldberg covers the conversation here.

3. 2021 session: Health policy preview

Over the course of two separate breakout sessions during the State of Reform Conference, six legislators offered their observations on the health care and fiscal policy teed up for Washington’s 2021 legislative session. The Democrats panel highlighted addressing COVID-19, race equity, and economic recovery. The Republicans panel said behavioral health, telehealth, and addressing the impacts of the pandemic will be top of mind.

During our “Modernizing State Health Policy after COVID” panel, Molly Voris, Senior Policy Advisor for Public Health & Health Care for Gov. Inslee, stressed the importance of finding stable funds for public health and supporting local and regional public health districts. Panelists agreed, noting that without first implementing a strong public health infrastructure, a modern, equitable health care system won’t be possible.


4. Losing the race to vaccinate Washingtonians

Washington State is 30th among states for utilization of the total doses provided since vaccines were approved in December. Only 33% of the total doses have so far been used for about 2.5% of the population. A recent presentation by IHME showed at our current rate of vaccination, the US will be 20% short of the vaccinated population needed to approach herd immunity by the important date of April 1.

Researchers say we are in a race to distribute vaccines faster than the virus mutates. A new South African strain appears to “bypass immune protection provided by prior infection.” Japan said yesterday it has a new strain as well. It’s not yet clear how the Japanese strain will impact the disease spread, but the South African strain does appear more concerning than the UK variant.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Veterinarian Medical Association informed its members that they should start calling to get vaccines as “health care workers.” It even emailed them instructions on how best to navigate the protocol in order to get a vaccination scheduled. That didn’t go over too well.

5. Seattleites at DC riot

Dr. Tammy Towers Parry, a family medicine physician from Seattle, was in DC last week and took part in storming the Capitol. Towers Parry previously worked at Swedish, but the health system was quick to release a statement that she has not been affiliated with them since May 2015. UW Medicine also quickly commented that Towers Parry is not and has never been employed there.

Two Seattle police officers have been placed on administrative leave after attending the riot at the U.S. Capitol last week. A statement from Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz says the Office of Police Accountability is reviewing the incident and says “If any SPD officers were directly involved in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I will immediately terminate them.” Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan is also facing calls for his resignation after comments he made related to the riots.