Q&A: Rep. Joe Schmick outlines health policy priorities for 2022

Representative Joe Schmick has served Washington’s 9th Legislative District — which includes Asotin, Garfield, Franklin, Adams, Whitman, and south Spokane counties — since 2007.  Rep. Schmick is the Ranking Member on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, and also serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

In this Q&A, Schmick discusses the health care legislation he’s been preparing during the interim, as well as his health policy priorities for the upcoming session.

 

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Soraya Marashi: You’ve asked Gov. Inslee to rescind the mask mandate. Why do you feel that is important for Washingtonians?

Rep. Joe. Schmick: “Well, if you’ve read my letter … this was particularly about the schools. I think that the local school board along with the local health department, and parents, should be making that decision locally. I suspect that the Endicott School District is a lot different than Bellevue or Lake Washington [school districts]. And I think that those decisions should be made locally. The press has taken that letter as, ‘Oh, you’re anti-mask.’ No, I just think that instead of having one-size-fits-all, it should be a decision that should be made at a local level.”

SM: How has COVID, and particularly the recent Delta surge, impacted Eastern Washington? What unique issues are your constituents facing?

JS: “I think that, again, everything’s based on a local area … we have a few cases in Whitman County, as an example, where we’re not seeing the surge that you’re seeing in comparison to King, Pierce, or Snohomish [counties]. And although I think the Delta variant exists out there, and I would encourage that people make an informed decision about the vaccine, they need to make decisions themselves to take care of themselves. If you’re sick, please stay home. When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth. There are just some basic hygiene things that people need to do. They need to take care of themselves.”

SM: What health issues have you been focused on during the interim? Any specific bills you have in mind?

JS: “It’s all over the map. I think right now, the Long Term Care Trust Act is at the forefront. Either we have to end it before it even starts, or modify it. There’s a lot of issues with it. I have a number of workers who live in Idaho [and] work in Washington. I mean, they pay into it, [but] they’ll never be able to access the benefits. That is one of the myriad of issues with it, and I certainly will have a bill to address some of those in the coming legislature. I think we continue to see the ramifications of low reimbursement rates for Medicaid, and now we’re seeing it in the mental health and substance abuse areas. There’s just not a lot of access to those professionals, especially when you get into the rural areas. I think what you would find is that someone who’s gotten their counseling license finds out very quickly that they can be in the private sector. And they’re full, and see as many people as they possibly can, and so there’s absolutely no incentive to take any Medicaid patients. And when we underpay Medicaid, it transfers as a hidden tax increase to the private pay. We’ve got to address this, and it’s something I’ve tried promoting to get done for a number of years, but we’ve got to make progress on that. 

I think with the implementation of the 988 system, I’m really concerned about the rural areas, and how this is going to work. I would like to see coordination between the existing 911 system and the 988 system. I know they’re just getting started, but the direction that the bill went, I’m very concerned about that because those two systems need to work together in the rural areas. People are going to call 911, and that’s why I think that we need to be really concerned and cautious that these things work together.

Probably the last one we’ll talk about today is barriers to licensure. All the things that we do in our state, are these helping the patient? Because there’s always a balance between patient safety and getting folks more focused in the workforce to provide services. And I think we’ve always got to be very cautious when we do stuff in the legislature, that we are not adding more barriers to helping people out. So it’s a balance, but it’s just something I think we need to be very aware of.”

SM: What are your other health-related priorities heading into the 2022 session?

JS: “The interpreter services that the state is supposed to provide [are] not working very well. And I mean, these are just normal things that are very important that we need to figure out the root problems and take care of. I’ve not really heard an awful lot from the Congress as a whole about health care things. 

Again, the Long Term Care Trust Act is eating a lot of people’s time right now as people are learning about it and trying to plan and found out that time is limited. In fact, most companies haven’t been selling any more policies. Even though the date is not until November 1, you can’t buy a policy right now. That’s a problem for folks, especially when we’ve had some opening up of the state. During COVID, it’s been hard for folks sometimes to get the information and to make plans.”

This interview was edited for clarity and length.