Washington lawmakers discuss health-related policy priorities for 2023 session


Shane Ersland


Washington lawmakers on both sides of the aisle discussed some key health-related policy priorities and issues to track during the 2022 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference.


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The conference featured 2 policy leadership panels. Reps. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver) and Rob Chase (R-Liberty Lake) represented the Republican panel, while Reps. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle) and Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) represented the Democrat panel. 

Macri discussed some Democratic priorities for the 2023 legislative session, saying long-term care, behavioral health, and opioid/substance use will be 3 primary focus areas. She works professionally in the behavioral health sector at a nonprofit organization and talked about ways to recruit more workers to the field.

“Working in behavioral health is a career ladder,” Macri said. “We talk a lot about loan forgiveness, and that is really a key retention strategy. But we don’t have enough people who have the credentials, who have the education right now. We’ve got to help develop people. Some of that’s going to happen through higher education. A lot of it’s going to happen on the job with some hybrid education and apprenticeship. How do we bring new models to help people advance in their careers and do we have the right credentials?”

Macri has been helping with a lot of crisis response work connected to the implementation of the new statewide 988 suicide and crisis lifeline

“The nonprofit agency I work for provides a lot of the adult mobile crisis response work in the King County region,” Macri said. “The credentials we have in behavioral health may not be the perfect fit for the credentials that best serve us in a crisis response system. So as we look to expand that system, what are the certifications and credentials, what are the facility licensure types that we need? Just getting creative to respond to what the current needs are is going to be a part of the conversation that we’re going to have.”

Riccelli said he will focus on the state’s behavioral health workforce shortage and oral health.

“I’ll continue to be a champion of oral health,” Riccelli said. “I think too many times that gets left out of the equation. It puts people in emergency rooms just like a lot of other things. I was excited to hear that the Department of Health and the [Health Care Authority] are looking at [hiring] a dental director. They believe that could also unlock some federal funds. That’s great. I sponsored a bill 3 or 4 years ago to look at a dental director. I think focusing on that is important. I still believe oral health is kind of where behavioral health was maybe 5 or 6 years ago, in that we’re talking about treating the whole person.”

Macri said it is also likely that legislation regarding abortion access will be introduced. 

“We’ve been doing a lot of analysis around impacts of access to care for patients,” Macri said. “We’re seeing increases in out-of-state patients coming to seek care here in Washington State. We expect to see some policy both in … Protections we can put in place for providers and for patients, and patient access. It’s been a priority.”

Harris said the state’s health care workforce shortage and mental health will be 2 key GOP priorities for the 2023 legislative session. 

“There is a shortage in every workforce right now,” Harris said. “We’re competing in the health care arena, as everyone else is. I think the hot topic coming up next year will still be mental health. Mental health will continue to be an important piece of legislation for next session.”

Chase said mental health will be a priority for him as well. He gained a lot of experience in that area after adopting a couple foster kids, as 1 had fetal alcohol syndrome.

“It was a roller coaster, but he now works at Enterprise Rent-A-Car,” Chase said. “He’s a detailer; he loves it. He got married. It’s a success story. We need to help the helpless. Those people are helpless. It’s not fair for them.”

Harris was asked whether he supports the possibility of Washington joining the Nurse Licensure Compact

“I think the Nurse Compact is a hindrance to attracting nurses into our state,” Harris said. “It’s an issue where people are controlling their environment and I kind of get that in a way. Although if we have shortages, I would hope that we would start to loosen this up a little because I believe we need more nurses. We need more CNAs. We need more of everything.”