5 Things Washington: Health staffing legislation, Q&A w/ Sen. Warnick, Pharmacy deserts


Emily Boerger


In case you missed it, yesterday we released the Detailed Agenda for the 2022 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference. It’s a strong list of over 60 speakers that we’re excited to bring together for conversations on the most important health policy topics and issues facing the country.

This virtual event will take place in less than a month on February 17. So, if you know you want to join us, be sure to register here.

Emily Boerger
State of Reform


1. Health staffing legislation heard in committee

Last week, lawmakers held a public hearing on HB 1868—a bill that aims to improve worker safety and patient care by establishing minimum staffing standards for specific patient units. For example, in emergency departments the bill would create a staff-to-patient ratio of one to three for nontrauma/noncritical care patients, and a one-to-one ratio for trauma/critical care patients.

The bill also broadens meal and rest break requirements and amends overtime restrictions. The bill is supported by WA Safe + Healthy, a campaign coalition launched in December by the Washington State Nurses Association, UFCW 21, and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. The bill is scheduled for executive session today at 10AM.


2. Q&A: Sen. Warnick discusses BH policy

This session, Sen. Judy Warnick is the primary sponsor of two bills in the Senate’s Behavioral Health Subcommittee. In this Q&A, Warnick discusses the outlook for the two bills which both involve improving engagement and interactions between families and those in the behavioral health system.

One of the bills, SB 5807, would require each state hospital to establish a Bureau of Family Experience to “enhance the engagement between state hospitals and a patient’s family or natural supports.” The bill also directs the University of Washington to support the bureaus and to develop a training curriculum for family peer specialists. SB 5807 is scheduled for executive session on Friday.

3. Nearly half a million Washingtonians live in pharmacy deserts

Roughly 450,000 adults in both urban and rural areas live in pharmacy deserts statewide, according to data pulled together by UW researchers. The analysis, which is still in the review process, found that roughly 30% of census tracts in Washington were designated as higher-risk for COVID infection and complications. Of census tracts that were pharmacy deserts, two-thirds were considered high-risk.

State of Reform reporter Aaron Kunkler dives into the details of Washington’s pharmacy deserts in this piece, and analyzes the issue through conversations with policymakers, researchers, and residents who live in underserved communities. Finding ways to utilize technology, addressing the high costs of running a pharmacy, and attracting the workforce to rural areas are all solutions being explored to reduce the number of deserts in the state.


4. Lawmakers to consider utilizing dental therapists

Washington lawmakers are again considering allowing dental therapists to operate statewide. HB 1885 would allow dental therapists—who are considered mid-level providers that are licensed to perform some dental procedures—to practice in certain locations such as FQHCs, school-based clinics, long-term care facilities, and hospitals.

Stephan Blanford, executive director of the Children’s Alliance and member of the Dental Therapy Task Force, supports the bill, saying it will help reduce dental inequities and improve access to care. The bill has drawn opposition as well, largely from the Washington State Dental Association, which last year posted an op-ed arguing that dental therapists would create a two-tiered system of care. HB 1885 has been referred to the House Health Care & Wellness Committee.

5. The status of federal price transparency requirements

On January 1, the No Surprises Act went into effect, putting in place patient protections against surprise medical bills. But that’s just one of several efforts to improve price transparency that are currently underway at the federal level. State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta offers a status update and a detailed look at some of those other efforts including the hospital price transparency rule and new regulatory requirements on insurers.

To improve compliance with the Hospital Disclosure Rule—which requires hospitals to post certain service prices online in a readable format—the Biden administration finalized a rule change that increased maximum penalties to about $2 million per year beginning in 2022. Though some requirements have been delayed, new regulatory rules will soon go into effect requiring insurers to maintain a consumer pricing tool and to “post online for public consumption their in-network prices, their out-of-network allowed charges, and their negotiated prices for prescription drugs.”