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An update on health care bills we’re watching in Washington

At the beginning of the third week of Washington’s 2020 legislative session, several health-related bills have been the subject of public hearings in multiple committees. Some have already passed the Senate, while others are still in committee. Some that are just being introduced might not make it all the way through the legislature this year, but with eight business days left until the last day to read committee reports in most committees, there’s still time for the various committees to pass introduced bills through to the Senate and the House. Here’s where certain key bills stand so far:

Senate Bill 5395 This sexual health education bill, which was first introduced last year, was finally passed through the Senate by a vote of 28-21 on Jan. 22. The bill would require schools to teach comprehensive sex ed using scientifically-accurate and age-appropriate material that reflects a student population that is increasingly diverse statewide. While some Republican legislators spoke out against the bill, SB 5359 passed through the Senate and now goes to the House Committee on Education. 

Senate Bill 5389 The bill would require the University of Washington, working with the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes project (known as Project ECHO), to develop a training program to help school officials identify students deemed at risk for substance abuse, suicide, or acts of violence. All school employees would have to be trained in this new program by the 2021-22 school year, and the University of Washington would have to find ways to pay for the development of this program. Health care services for at-risk youth identified by this program would receive mental health treatment via telemedicine services and school staff would manage scheduling these students for teleconsultation appointments with a psychologist or psychiatrist. This bill was introduced last session but stalled in the House and was returned to the Senate Rules Committee on third reading. It was reintroduced Jan. 13 this session and passed in the Senate. It will now go to the House Education Committee.

House Bill 2294 was introduced this year, and would make assault against a health care provider a felony by bringing up the crime from assault in the fourth degree to assault in the third degree. The crime is now a gross misdemeanor, and if HB 2294 passes into law, an assault against a health care provider while they’re providing health care services would be made a class C felony. Class C felonies carry with them a maximum of five years in prison, or a maximum fine of $10,000 or both. The bill was referred to the Public Safety Committee on first reading. The House Committee on Public Safety scheduled the bill for a public hearing on Jan. 27. The bill would protect medical providers, including physicians, nurses, medical assistants, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, dentists, naturopaths and a variety of other medical professionals. 

Senate Bill 6128 was scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Health & Long-Term Care Committee on Jan. 20, and was one of the bills to be heard in executive session in that committee on Jan. 27. The bill would expand Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days postpartum to a full 12 months. Coverage for a full year would help  combat negative health effects following a pregnancy. Under the bill, the state’s Health Care Authority would be required to pay for postpartum care starting Jan. 1, 2021, to mothers in Washington who earn 193 percent of the federal poverty level. Current law requires mothers on Medicaid to earn 193 percent of the federal poverty level, and SB 6128 would retain that number — just extending the coverage a full year after birth. 

A variety of other bills introduced this year haven’t made it past committee yet.

House Bill 2335 would increase access to opioid disorder medications, allowing health care providers to prescribe a two-week supply of opioid disorder medicine to their patients. It is scheduled to be an item in the House Health & Long-term Care Committee’s executive session on Jan. 31. House Bill 2337, which similarly deals with opioid use disorder, would require a co-prescription of opioid overdose reversal medication, which would require physicians who prescribe medicines containing opioids to also prescribe an overdose medication at the same time. It was introduced in the House of Representatives for first reading Jan. 13 and referred to the House Health & Wellness Committee. 

Other bills deal with discrimination in health care. House Bill 2338, which was scheduled for executive session in the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness for Jan. 31, would expand nondiscrimination provisions in health insurance and expand mental health parity health insurance requirements. 

HJM 4014, interestingly, would include dental care in Medicaid coverage, requiring the state to request the federal government include enough money to provide dental services to Medicaid recipients. This bill is also scheduled for executive session in the House Health Care & Wellness Committee on Jan. 28. 


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