This newsletter includes some additional panel coverage from last month’s 2022 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference, as well as reporting on new opioid settlement money coming to the state and the increased utilization of a program to help special needs children transition into kindergarten.
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State of Reform
1. How is Washington supporting its health workforce?
During last month’s panel on the health care workforce, Sheryl Schwartz, who leads the Behavioral Health Apprenticeship Program at UW Medicine, emphasized the supply-and-demand issues the state’s workforce faces. She said 22% of the state’s population has some type of mental illness, but only 25% of these individuals—or around 5% of the entire state population—is unable to receive appropriate care due to low staffing levels.
Dr. Suzanne Allen, Chair of the state’s Health Workforce Council, said her organization’s Sentinel Network works to gather input from health care workers across the state and inform policymakers, workforce planners, and educators about the key needs of the workforce. Kelsey Potter, VP of Medicaid at Coordinated Care, said her organization conducted a campaign to invest in diversifying the workforce and is also working with colleges to support the academic careers of prospective health professionals from underrepresented backgrounds.
2. Experts discuss Medicaid landscape
After delivering the Morning Keynote, Medicaid Director Dr. Charissa Fotinos said during a conference panel that 400,000 Washingtonians joined the state’s Medicaid program during the pandemic, but once the PHE’s continuous eligibility provisions end she anticipates a 5% drop in enrollment. “We haven’t done anything this big since the Affordable Care Act,” she said of the preparation for Medicaid redeterminations. She’s hopeful an in-development effort to provide coverage to those unqualified for federal coverage options will help.
Amerigroup of Washington’s top priority is updating the information of its members before the PHE ends, said CEO Anthony Woods. CHAS Health CEO Aaron Wilson said the number of uninsured individuals among his clinic’s patient population decreased from 40% to less than 10% due to PHE coverage flexibilities, recommending that more permanent coverage expansions be prioritized after redeterminations.
3. What They’re Watching: Allison Krutsinger, DCYF Office of Government Affairs & Community Engagement
Allison Krutsinger is the Director of the Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families Office of Government Affairs & Community Engagement. In this edition of “What They’re Watching,” she discusses some department initiatives. She is focused on prevention strategies that can help deter youth from entering the juvenile justice systems, ensure families have safe and stable care for their children, and provide stable child care and access to quality learning services.
“That hasn’t been the focus, largely, of state systems,” Krutsinger said. “We sort of react to crisis, and then build systems and funding streams to react to crisis at a deep-end intervention phase. So, I think we have a real opportunity to zone in on the upstream and prevention strategies that support families.”
4. $518 million coming to Washington for opioid epidemic response
After rejecting a proposed national opioid settlement and taking the 3 largest opioid distributors in the country to trial, Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently announced the acquisition of a new $518 million settlement coming to the state. Over $476 million of this will fund the state’s opioid epidemic response—$261 million to the state government and $215 million to cities and counties.
The first $55 million in settlement money will be available to the state on Dec. 1st and can be used to strengthen the state’s response to the opioid epidemic by expanding treatment options, increasing support for first responders, and more. “… Lawmakers, under the terms of the agreement, must use the funds to address the opioid epidemic,” Ferguson said. “These significant resources will help Washington State fight back against the opioid epidemic that continues to rip holes through the very fabric of our communities and families…”
5. More school districts adopting Transitional Kindergarten program
The state’s Transitional Kindergarten program to help children with special needs prepare for kindergarten has extended its reach from 40 school districts to 67 school districts since its implementation last year. During a House Children, Youth & Families committee meeting on Tuesday, OSPI Executive Director of Early Learning Samantha Bowen said the program currently has 2,000 students enrolled—a number she anticipates will soon increase.
“As a special education expert in the space of early learning, I would love to see opportunities for children with disabilities to have access to any door they stand before,” OSPI Early Childhood Special Education Coordinator Ryan Guzman said during the meeting. “And right now, within our current system, that is not happening. We don’t have those systems in place right now, yet with these efforts we’re creating ways where we can gather data to make great change within our systems into the future.” The program receives funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which has provided it with $21 million total in funding.