Top 5 Fixes for High Health Care Prices

High health care costs are driving Washington workers and families over the edge

It’s no secret. High health care costs are driving Washington workers and families over the edge. More than 400,000 people in our state are being chased by debt collectors for medical bills. Four out of five Washingtonians recently surveyed say they’re worried about affording their health care. And drug companies, major health systems, and insurers keep asking for skyrocketing price increases.

An obscene amount of money is flowing into our health care system – but we aren’t seeing better health outcomes or higher quality care. And nearly nine out of ten Washingtonians across party lines support legislative actionWhat gives? And what can we do about it?

The Economic Opportunity Institute has joined forces this legislative session with patient, consumer, business, and labor partners to create the Fair Health Prices campaign. Our mission? To bring down high health care prices so everyone in Washington can afford the medical care they need.

We know that some small rural hospitals are struggling. However, many hospitals are doing better than ever. In fact, most large hospitals in our state have greater reserves today than they did before the pandemic, thanks to stock market gains and billions in federal relief.

Three of our state’s largest health systems have now accumulated $30 billion in untaxed reserves – and some even have their own venture capital arms, hedge funds, and private equity firms.

One hospital, CommonSpirit, which owns WA’s Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, ended 2022 with over $18 billion in cash and investments – and a 26% net increase in its reserves since 2019. They’ve also received nearly $5 billion in federal aid.

And then there’s the question of how hospitals have used their COVID relief. Commissioners at Kirkland’s EvergreenHealth voted last year to count its federal aid as revenue, triggering almost $2 million in bonuses for their own hospital executives. This use of federal dollars is especially concerning considering these same hospitals claim they can’t afford to hire new nurses in the midst of a workforce crisis.

One thing is clear – we need solutions and we need them now. But moving the needle on health care reform in a meaningful way is bigger than any one policy.

So we’ve got five key policies this session that together, can help us bring down health care costs and ensure everyone in Washington has accessible, affordable care.
  1. Reduce health care costs (HB 1508/SB 5519): This gives our existing Health Care Cost Transparency Board more authority to collect key affordability and hospital financial data to better understand health care spending – and the ability to bring high-priced outliers into compliance.
  2. Promote fair provider contracting (HB 1379/SB 5393): When hospitals buy up small clinics, they have outsized power to set prices with insurance companies. And sometimes they engage in anticompetitive negotiating practices that force insurers to accept higher prices. Legislators need to ensure a fair playing field and stop anticompetitive provider behavior.
  3. Ensure prescription drug affordability (HB 1269): The legislature created a new Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) in 2022 – and it’s a good start. But it was weakened by industry pressure last year, which limits the number of drugs that can be reviewed for excessive price increases and delays upper payment limits for several years. Improving the PDAB is crucial to lowering drug prices.
  4. Regulate health system mergers and acquisitions (HB 1263/SB 5241): Consolidations have been well-proven to drive up health care prices – which then result in higher premiums for workers, families, and business owners. Our Attorney General needs better oversight to review consolidations and block those that would diminish access to affordable, quality care.
  5. Support frontline health care workers (SB 5236): While we work to ensure large health systems are charging reasonable rates, we need to make sure they’re not balancing the books on the backs of our frontline health care workers. Staffing standards are critical to ensuring both worker retention and safe patient care.

We’ve got strong legislative champions, powerful coalition members, and plenty of evidence-based solutions. Now, all we need is you!

Sign up for our action alerts now to make sure you’re ready to take action for affordable health care this legislative session.

 

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