Legislation would petition federal government to allow Washington’s creation of a universal healthcare system


Shane Ersland


Legislation sponsored by Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle) would petition President Joe Biden to create a federal universal healthcare system or allow Washington to create its own.


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Members of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee discussed Senate Joint Memorial 8006 during a public hearing on Friday. The bill requests that the federal government either create a universal healthcare program or, absent federal action, partner with the state to implement a single-payer system. 

Washington has made attempts to invest in universal healthcare initiatives in the past. The legislature directed the Washington State Health Care Authority to convene a Universal Health Care Work Group in 2019 to study the creation of a universal healthcare system. And the Universal Health Care Commission was created to prepare the state for a system that covers all residents through Senate Bill 5399 in 2021. But the state has yet to implement a single-payer system, and Hasegawa said there have always been obstacles in trying to implement universal coverage.

“The main obstacles are the federal government, and things we need from them to be able to move forward here in our state,” Hasegawa said. “What you see before you is sort of an agreement from everybody in the state, that I know of, that is wanting to see universal healthcare coverage, at least in our state, if not the country.”

Hasegawa said SJM 8006 presents three options for the federal government:

  • Create a healthcare program that covers everybody in the country 
  • Implement legislation similar to Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-California) House Resolution 3775 (which has not seen any legislative action since June 2021), which would allow states to create their own universal healthcare plans 
  • Or, if unable to pass HR 3775, grant Washington any waivers it would need to ensure all residents have health coverage 

“It’s a joint memorial, but it’s a very important one because it presents the collective will of all the different forces within the state that want to see universal healthcare move forward in our state, if not the country,” Hasegawa said. “One good thing about this is, since it’s a joint memorial, it doesn’t have to go to the governor’s office for his signature. It just goes straight to our congressional representatives and the president.”

Kathryn Lewandowsky, a registered nurse representing Whole Washington, testified in support of SJM 8006. She said working in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic made her realize that fundamental changes are needed in the healthcare system.

“We knew it was failing before the pandemic,” Lewandowsky said. “Now its failings have been laid bare. We lack the vital infrastructure needed to even call our healthcare any sort of a system, and we are missing the most vital component: our caregivers. We just don’t have enough staff or hospital space to take care of the current numbers of sick Washingtonians. Even if we educate more healthcare providers quickly, we won’t have enough.”

The best way to ensure residents have access to the healthcare they need is to provide it free at the point of service, in order to halt illnesses before they become emergencies, Lewandowsky said. 

“We have so many problems that need to be dealt with; homelessness, climate change, food insecurity, poverty wages,” she said. “We can no longer afford the luxury of a healthcare system filled with waste.”

Washington Policy Center Analyst Elizabeth Hovde testified in opposition to SJM 8006, noting that it has good intentions, but sends the wrong messages. 

“In other experiences with government-run systems, we see that affordability, access, and quality do not go together,” Hovde said. “Individuals’ healthcare does not benefit from taking away decisions made between doctors and patients. Citizens, not governments, are the best advocates for their healthcare needs. Great Britain and Canada have taxpayer-funded universal care, and studies show that access has suffered.”

Dr. Blanca Zuniga, a family medicine physician, said patient care can suffer when they are not the primary focus of the US’s for-profit health system, however.

“Predatory health insurance companies are no longer needed,” Zuniga said. “There’s no room for millions of dollars in CEO pay. Patients are getting sick; they’re not getting the inhalers they need to breathe. It’s pollen season, I’m seeing itthey’re dying. I really feel it’s important for us to recognize (healthcare) as a human right. And it’s time we stop capitalizing off suffering and illness.”

The Senate passed SJM 8006 on March 6th. The House Health Care and Wellness Committee did not vote on the bill on Friday, but it is scheduled for an executive session there on Tuesday.