Whole Washington, a grassroots organization advocating for a universal healthcare system in the state, is exploring several pathways to work with legislators in moving closer to their goal, and could make further progress with a joint memorial that is moving through the legislature.
Sen. Bob Hasegawa’s (D-Seattle) Senate Joint Memorial 8006 would petition the federal government to either create a universal healthcare program or, absent federal action, partner with the state to implement a single-payer system. The bill was passed in the Senate on March 6th, and in the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness on March 28th. It is now in the House Rules Committee.
Whole Washington Campaign Director Andre Stackhouse told State of Reform that SJM 8006’s passage would mostly be a symbolic victory for the group.
“We’re trying to come up with a starting point where we can work with our legislators, and [see] what actions we can take,” Stackhouse said. “This is a symbolic action we’re thinking can pass, and build a bigger discussion on where we can go from there. It is trying to secure a commitment from legislators in building a universal healthcare system.”
The state would need a certain amount of federal cooperation in implementing a universal healthcare system, and the bill sheds light on that.
“There is a federal aspect,” Stackhouse said. “There are some federal regulations that make it difficult. And federal money makes it easier to implement. One thing we might be able to get from passing this bill is, it creates a formal ask of the federal government. One criticism [we hear] is that you can’t do this without getting federal waivers. I believe the waivers are something we can acquire over time.”
Hasegawa also sponsored Senate Bill 5335, which would have created a nonprofit health financing entity called the Washington Health Trust. The bill called for the trust to ensure all Washingtonians could enroll in nonprofit health insurance coverage without the burden of premiums, deductibles, copayments, or medical bills. SB 5335 has not seen any legislative action since its first reading in the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee on Jan. 12th, however.
“It sparked discussions on what it could do for our bigger goals,” Stackhouse said. “It became the plan of action.”
Through discussions Whole Washington had with legislators, it eventually became clear that SB 5335 would not progress in the legislature, Stackhouse said. The group hopes the bill gets revisited next session.
“The joint memorial is one thing we can do, and another thing we can do is integrate the health trust into the Universal Healthcare Commission,” he said. “It’s not directly related to the joint memorial, but we’ve had these conversations. There were unanswered questions about the health trust and universal healthcare in Washington, in general. The only way those things get answered is through the commission, which has been anointed to ask and answer questions.”
The Universal Healthcare Commission was created to prepare the state for a system that covers all residents through SB 5399 in 2021. It holds regular meetings to explore the prospect of a universal healthcare system in the state, and provides suggestions to lawmakers. Whole Washington hopes to develop a closer relationship with the commission, Stackhouse said.
“We have applied for and encouraged our members to be on the commission, but so far they haven’t been accepted,” he said. “You’ll see us at the next meeting, because we’re on the agenda. We’re hoping to have more dialog with the commission. We will learn a lot after the next meeting [regarding] collaboration, and the possibility of further conversations. We’re 100% willing to work with the commission. The legislature, the commission, and the people all need to come together.”
The commission has the power to make recommendations to the legislature, Stackhouse noted.
“They’re not going to take action without their recommendation,” he said. “And nobody is going to support something they think the public will reject. Whole Washington wants to represent a grassroots healthcare justice movement in these conversations, and we will do that in whatever capacity we can.”
Whole Washington will also be gearing up to host another march/event to advocate for universal healthcare this summer. It hosted a rally at Seattle’s Othello Playground last summer to celebrate the day (July 30th, 1965) Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law. It also held a March for Medicare For All in Seattle as part of a national effort in summer 2021.
“What we’ve been trying to build is a very intense and unified healthcare justice movement in Washington and the US,” Stackhouse said. “What we’re starting to see is the treatment of July 30th as a day of observance. Other movements have this, and this is the closest thing we have to a holiday in the healthcare movement. We might do marches, or in other cases, it might be a rally. We want folks to come out that day, and we’ll try to have virtual options available.”
The date and location of this year’s Whole Washington event are yet to be determined, Stackhouse said.
“We are announcing our intention to do this, but we want room for our partners to discuss it,” he said. “The important thing is to get out that weekend. We might schedule a first set of speakers in the next month or two.”