Public health funding a must for modernizing Washington health care

Funding for public health initiatives — even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic — is crucial to the modernization of Washington’s health care system, according to experts on State of Reform’s Modernizing state health policy after COVID panel at the Washington State of Reform Virtual Health Policy conference Thursday.

Modernizing health care in Washington is dependent on having an adequate public health infrastructure in place and on creating a more equitable health system, according to the panelists. Building an equitable system means equality across racial, gender and even socio-economic groups. 

 

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“Many (people of lower socio-economic class) have underlying health conditions that have existed for such a long time that have not been addressed and that complicates things,” said Justin Gill, a board member of the Washington State Nurses Association. “In addition to COVID they might be coming in with an elevated blood pressure or undiagnosed chronic respiratory disease.”

Lack of access creates additional issues down the line for patients, especially in the midst of a pandemic where patients could be visiting a doctor for the first time in nearly a decade, Gill said.

Molly Voris, the senior policy advisor on Public Health and Health Care for Gov. Jay Inslee points to politics as a reason why many Washingtonians do not have the access to the healthcare they need. 

“The public health system is very underfunded and has been for a long time,” Voris said. “A lot of the decisions that have been made were made on political lines rather than in the best interest of the community.”

Voris said Inslee will attempt to remedy these issues in the upcoming year. He will do so by prioritizing the creation of a stable fund for public health across the state. Inslee will also support local and regional public health districts to allow them to make decisions for their own communities, independent of politics from the capital. 

Rep. Eileen Cody, who serves as the House Health Care and Wellness Committee Chair and represents the 34th District, mentioned access to information as another public health need. Washington offers Medicaid, Cascade Care — a public option that became available in November — and other nonemployer-based health care options on the state’s benefits exchange. Many Washingtonians are not aware of these options, though.

“There’s a lot of people that have always gotten their health care through their employer and don’t even know how to access another system,” Cody said.

Panelists agreed Washington needs a strong public health infrastructure, and then programs can be added. Without first implementing an infrastructure, a modern, equitable health care system won’t be possible.