WSHA’s legislative, budget priorities

The 2016 legislative session is now underway, and this year’s session is slated to be a short one. This year, a supplemental budget year, our top budget priority is mental health, which Governor Jay Inslee also identified as a major need in his December supplemental budget. We are hoping to continue the gains in mental health funding that began last year.

WSHA’s top policy priorities are:

  • Pharmacy: WSHA is seeking legislation or state agency action that will require the state to implement a new path for hospital-based pharmacies to obtain licenses. This was enacted last session at SB 5460, but there have been barriers to implementation.
  • Mental health: WSHA continues to advocate for mental health legislation on multiple fronts, pushing for student loan forgiveness for mental health professionals, maintaining funding for community mental health beds and expanding capital funding for new mental health beds, securing reasonable Medicaid rates to new mental health beds, better access to state psychiatric hospitals, and better behavioral health care for children and adolescents.
  • Interstate physician licensure compact: WSHA supports legislation that makes it easier for physicians to practice in multiple states. This will make it easier for physicians to provide care in border communities or through telemedicine.
  • Rural health care flexibility: WSHA wants to ensure that very small critical access hospitals that may decide to take a risk and try new value-based payment and delivery models are able to return to their Critical Access Hospital status if the new payment models will not be able to sustain the hospital. This flexibility would be an option for only about a dozen very small, rural hospitals.
  • Support a reasonable regulatory environment on issues such as community benefits, mergers and affiliations, and ensuring a level playing field for regulated entities.
  • Appropriate opioid prescribing: WSHA looks for the state to provide better access to health care providers through its Prescription Monitoring Program to make sure opioids are used appropriately.
  • Reasonable regulatory environment: Every year, dozens of bills are introduced that would add additional regulatory burden to hospitals without adding value to care delivery. These bills threaten the stability of hospitals and limit hospitals’ ability to innovate to better serve their communities. Those of greatest concern include:
    • Nurse staffing: Ensure no laws are enacted that restrict hospitals’ ability to staff according to patient needs. Oppose staffing ratios, meal and rest breaks regulations for nurses, and unreasonable limits on overtime or on-call staffing.
    • Level playing field: Ensure other types of facilities that want to deliver hospital services are subject to the same rules, regulations, and obligations as hospitals are.
    • Community benefits and charity care: Recognize that the current health care system is in major flux. Hospitals are restructuring their community benefit programs to meet community needs and state transformation efforts, absorbing major new Medicare cuts, and replacing charity care for the uninsured with financial relief for low-income insured and Medicaid. Oppose any new mandates that restrict the ability of hospitals to deal effectively with their community needs.
    • Mergers and affiliations: For mergers and affiliations that pass federal and state antitrust review, protect hospitals’ ability to form organizations that best serve their communities’ needs and ensure hospital viability, without additional state barriers.

Budget Priorities

Mental health/behavioral health funding: Recognizing that this is a short session and a supplemental budget, WSHA is focusing on a single budget priority – mental health.

  • Provide $3 million in increased loan repayment funding targeted to selected mental health professionals serving safety net populations.
  • Provide $6 million for capital funds for mental health competitive grants. The 2015-2017 capital budget distributed $5.5 million in grant funding for new projects, yet the request for dollars for the competitive pool totaled more than $17 million. Several projects were not funded.
  • Provide new funding to Eastern and Western State hospitals to ensure they can operate at capacity, including funding for psychiatrist pay.
  • Provide a mechanism to appropriately fund care for Medicaid patients in new inpatient psychiatric units.
  • Provide funding to improve behavioral health care for children and adolescents.

WSHA successfully lobbied for major advances in hospital and health care policy and funding in 2015. We are particularly pleased with new laws addressing mental health, telemedicine, suspect and inmate care, the hospital safety net assessment, and pharmacy issues. Read more about the 2015 legislative session here. Read more about ongoing work to ensure robust implementation of these new laws.