Washington state legislators outline priorities for 2022 legislative session
Six Washington State lawmakers — three Republican and three Democratic — gathered last week to discuss pressing health care issues and policies they expect to address in the upcoming 2022 legislative session. The conversations took place during two separate panels at the 2021 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference.
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Rep. Jessica Bateman, Rep. Nicole Macri, and Rep. Marcus Riccelli were featured in the Democratic panel, and Sen. Mike Padden, Sen. Ron Muzzall, and Rep. Alex Ybarra were featured in the Republican panel.
Below is a comprehensive overview of the discussions that took place in each session.
Policy Leadership: Democrats
- Riccelli, who is a member of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee, stated his intention to continue working toward broadening access, improving quality, and implementing standards of care in telehealth, as well as incorporating behavioral health services into coverage.
- Bateman, vice chair of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee, emphasized her intention to focus on how workforce issues can be addressed in the upcoming session. She says this would involve strengthening health care workforce pipelines, particularly with oral health care workers such as dental hygienists and assistants, in order to address the increasing demand for oral health care.
- Bateman also asserted the legislature’s need to focus on retaining and recruiting the long-term care workforce. Macri further emphasized the importance of addressing the health care workforce crisis by implementing strategies such as apprenticeships and more training centers for the behavioral health workforce. Macri stated:
“We have urgent needs right now in that sector, as we are seeing the pandemic-related impacts of isolation and uncertainty and more instances of folks struggling with behavioral health. And our most vulnerable populations, so our young folks in the K-12 system, folks going into our university and college systems, and our elders in particular are really struggling with behavioral health, and we need the workforce to work on that.”
- Supporting behavioral health services was another point of emphasis in the discussion, which all three legislators agreed would be of high importance in the 2022 session. Riccelli and Macri stressed the importance of addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on youth mental health in the state. Bateman said thinking holistically about health, and emphasizing the social determinants, needs to be a top priority for the upcoming session.
- Bateman commented on the need to make additional investments in behavioral health in order to divert people out of the criminal legal system, and making sure that behavioral health providers are embedded within the existing health system. Bateman said it will be necessary to continuously monitor how the 988 bill and the Blake Decision are performing in local communities.
- Macri said she will continue to focus on ensuring health care access for immigrants throughout the state, and support efforts to ensure every person has health insurance coverage and equitable access to the full range of health care in the state.
- Macri also discussed the status of the Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Trust Act, and the LTSS Trust Commission. She said lawmakers will likely see recommendations to improve the program coming to the legislature, particularly related to eligibility.
- Macri stated there would be continued policy conversations about lowering prescription drug costs in the upcoming session, and a focus on increasing access to specific health services and social supports that people need, such as housing.
- Macri finally commented that, due to the shortness of the upcoming session, they would likely be focusing on fine tuning policies passed in the 2021 session and laying the groundwork for bigger policy considerations for the next biennium.
Policy Leadership: Republicans
- Muzzall, ranking member of the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee, said one of his priorities will be to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates to support access to health care in rural districts. Padden, member of the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee, agreed that the legislature needs to look at better reimbursement rates, referencing several long-term care facilities that have closed in rural areas as a result of the existing low rates.
- Padden says he is hoping to bring back Senate Bill 5247, which relates to the multistate nurse licensure compact, in order to address the nursing workforce shortage. Padden says he will continue to oppose Senate Bill 5234, concerning the long-term care payroll tax, citing his concerns about financing the program.
- Ybarra, member of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee, stated his continued support for Senate Bill 5003, concerning the live donor act, and House Bill 1378, concerning telemedicine to help in accessibility of health care for people in rural Washington.
- Ybarra also stressed the issue of Confluence Health not renewing their contract with the Premera insurance provider network. He said that working on this issue will be his biggest priority once the 2022 session starts, as it is a major issue for his constituents in rural Washington.
“Most of north central Washington – teachers, city employees … will not have insurance coverage because Confluence Health is our only big provider of doctors … We’re going to be in big trouble come January.”
- Vaccine mandates also came up during the conversation, to which all three legislators expressed their opposition. Muzzall stated:
“We have supported the vaccine, we’ve talked about how good the vaccine is. I’m vaccinated … but I don’t support a mandatory vaccine. I believe that people have the right to decide whether they do or do not want to have the vaccine for one reason or another. As we go forward, as we see this contracting circle all the time of who is required to get vaccinated, we see more pushback. I think we get a lot more participation with a carrot than with a stick.”
- Padden echoed Muzzall, emphasizing that this high intensity of opposition will only exacerbate workforce issues for state patrol, law enforcement agencies, and health care workers. Ybarra noted his efforts to educate folks across the state on the vaccine, but stated he believed it was ultimately their choice to get vaccinated.
- Muzzall also said that he would prioritize addressing the health care workforce crisis in the 2022 session, citing the fact that some facilities had been paying nurses up to $200 an hour due to labor shortages.
- All three legislators expressed their strong opposition to Gov. Inslee’s extended emergency powers, stating that the governor had left the legislature out of the conversation, as some legislators had been requesting a special session to no avail. Padden said:
“I think there’s a real problem when you have supposedly 3 co-equal branches of government, and the legislature, at least right now, is being frozen out.”
- Muzzall also discussed working toward establishing payment parity for nurse practitioners.