A bill that’s designed to lower barriers for peer specialists to receive certification, and consequently be reimbursed through Medicaid, passed the Washington State House Health Health Care and Wellness Committee with a do-pass recommendation.
Peer specialists are people who help others recover from substance addiction and other behavioral health issues. Often, these peer specialists have battled similar addictions and provide unique insights and assistance to people still struggling with them. Other states, like Florida, have considered expanding similar programs.
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The bill, HB 1865, would allow peer specialists to provide peer support services including intervention. These interventions are provided to a client through the use of shared experiences to assist a client in gaining new skills, accessing treatment and engaging in symptom management, promoting social connection and recovery, and other health and wellness goals.
The legislation would establish peer specialists and certified peer specialist trainees as new health professions authorized by the state Department of Health. An amendment to the bill makes it so the department will not directly develop or conduct certification exams, instead the state Health Care Authority to develop and administer exams. The authority will also ensure the exams are being administered in a culturally appropriate manner, and adopt procedures to accommodate people with learning and other disabilities. The Department of Health will, however, work with the Washington State Certified Peer Counselor Advisory committee to review apprenticeship programs.
The amended bill also requires that continuing education requirements include at least six hours of coursework in professional ethics and law every six years, and requires that peer specialist trainee applicants pass the written exam before being issued a certificate. It also caps the maximum fee amount for certified peer specialists and peer specialist trainees at $100.
After an executive session during a hearing on Jan. 31, the committee recommended the amended version of the bill be passed out of committee with a do-pass recommendation. Rep. Lauren Davis (D – 32nd LD) is the bill’s prime sponsor, and said it will remove some artificial boundaries for people to become reimbursable peer specialists, and expand the use of care services.
Rep. Joe Schmick (R – 9th LD) said the bill would mark a major change in policy, and wanted more time to digest its impacts. He ultimately voted to approve the do-pass recommendation, and the bill cleared committee in a 13-2 vote. The bill has garnered bipartisan support.