Washington’s legislature is moving forward a menu of bills that will improve health and economic security for state residents by lowering health care costs, increasing access, and offering more comprehensive, transparent, and equitable medical services. These bills still have to survive another series of hearings and votes before becoming law, but they made it past the first three cut offs that killed off many other bills. The fact that four of them received strong bipartisan votes indicates just how much families across the state are struggling with rising health care costs and how united the demands are for change.
A trio of bills will help people access needed care without fearing unexpected high costs. HB 1065 would protect patients from surprise billing for emergency services or an approved surgery. Now without this protection patients can go to an in-network facility, but unknowingly receive care for anesthesiology, radiology or lab work from a provider who is out-of-network and be left holding an exorbitant bill. HB 1531 would further protect people from medical debt by regulating predatory collection practices and reducing interest rates on medical debt. SB 5292 would set up a process to provide greater drug cost transparency and help control the skyrocketing cost of the priciest drugs.
Cascade Care, HB 1523 and SB 5526, passed both in the House and Senate, but with different amendments. It would create affordable state-designed standard plans through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange to reduce premiums and deductibles for people who get health insurance on the individual market. This would help working- and middle-class people struggling to make ends meet both purchase insurance and access care when they need it. One provision of the bill that is supported by policy experts and patient advocates, but opposed by many health industry groups, is to cap provider reimbursement rates at Medicare levels. The savings would be passed on to customers, and the whole health system would benefit with fewer people postponing treatment until it is difficult and costly and less uncompensated care. This provision remains in the House bill but was stripped in the Senate.
The Long-term Care Trust Act, HB 1087, is an innovative proposal to address the looming problem of how to care for people as they age and begin to need help with the tasks of daily living. It establishes public benefits for in-home care, nursing home care, and other services like a wheel chair ramp, meals on wheels, or transportation to the doctor. These benefits would be funded by payroll premiums of 58 cents every hundred dollars earned.
Looking to the future, SB 5822 creates a pathway towards universal care. It authorizes exploring options for a state-based universal health system. The bill commissions the Health Care Authority to convene a workgroup from a wide range of stakeholders to make recommendations to the Legislature for publicly funded health care to transform access to health care from a costly privilege to a basic human right.
Together, these bills demonstrate Washington’s continued commitment to be a national leader in innovative strategies to improve residents’ health and well-being while decreasing wasteful spending and cost gouging in our health care system. Thank your legislators for moving these policies forward and urge them to bring these important reforms across the finish line.
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