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Op-ed: WA is One Floor Vote Away from a Pathway to Universal Healthcare

Bevin McLeod is Co-Founder and President of Alliance for a Healthy Washington; Jeanne Kohl-Welles is King County Councilmember (District 4); Vicki Lowe is Executive Director of the American Indian Health Commission; and the Teamsters Joint Council No. 28 represents over 55,000 employees statewide. They co-authored the following op-ed about SB 5822.

Washington State is facing a health care crisis. This crisis affects every facet of our society, as individuals and businesses alike are shouldered with the economic burden of an unsustainable system. That is why we must pass SB 5822 into law.

The leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. is medical debt, and some businesses are losing contracts overseas or closing their doors for good due to rising health care costs.

Behavioral health providers are overburdened and underpaid while rates of gun violence, suicide, and substance abuse rise. Environmental degradation is leading to increased rates of conditions such as asthma and cancer, and rural health care facilities are closing their doors as private insurers flee uncertain markets.

Fortunately, our Washington State Legislature is making meaningful progress this session by focusing on behavioral and reproductive health access, and environmental health equity. Legislators are on track to make the network of providers, government agencies, and local non-profits more integrated and collaborative, while bringing more rigorous, evidence-based
processes to our laws around health care delivery.

Addressing ongoing issues around how and when people access critical health care services requires thoughtful consideration: the balance between patients, providers, and payers that defines our shared ecosystem of health care delivery is an intricate network that we must work hard both to maintain and improve.

SB 5602, “Reproductive Healthcare Access for All,” would increase access to reproductive health care by expanding medical insurance coverage for prenatal vitamins, condoms and more. It would also increase reproductive health care coverage for immigrant and transgender communities. Expanding access to basic reproductive health services is a proven solution to improve overall health- and would be especially impactful for historically marginalized communities.

A leading driver of cost in our health care system is response to chronic care needs, sometimes attributed to the presence of pollution and other environmental toxins, which disproportionately impact communities of color in Washington state. SB 5489, “Healthy Environment for All,” would
take an important step towards addressing these inequities by establishing an actionable statewide standard for environmental justice – a historic first for Washington state – which would allow state agencies to take action with population health outcomes in mind. This is an important development built on years of trend data that examines how the built environment
impacts health for Washington’s most vulnerable communities over time.

HB 1394, likely to be passed by a majority vote in the Senate, focuses on enhancing community-based treatment centers to ensure an appropriate continuum of care for behavioral health patients while bolstering resources for existing facilities that are already at capacity. This is the most comprehensive overhaul to the state’s behavioral health system in almost two decades, and the legislators championing its passage should be applauded for their efforts.

All of these threads of the health care delivery ecosystem come together in SB 5822, which would help Washington state map a deliberate path towards a system for universal health care coverage.

Like the planned investments in our state’s behavioral health system, 5822 would involve an intensive stakeholder process and rigorous actuarial analyses to understand the impacts, outcomes, and savings related to a state-wide, or regionally-based program through a publicly financed, privately delivered health care system for all residents.

Further, the cost of this effort amounts to little more than nine one millionths of the total state budget – a drop in the bucket when you consider the possible costs related to adverse consequences that could stem from taking the wrong action at this crucial moment in our state’s health care journey.

While the state legislature allocated funding in 2018 to study up to 10 different international health care delivery systems, the passage of SB 5822 would allow Washington to capitalize on that momentum and continue to innovate in its approach to health care policy-making around much needed reforms.

SB 5822 has passed both House and Senate committees with unprecedented bi-partisan support, and we urge leadership to bring the bill to the floor to secure final passage. These critical few weeks will define our state’s health care destiny for a generation to come, and we can’t afford to miss this opportunity to move forward.

For all Washingtonians, it’s vital that legislators take the next step towards securing a reliable system for universal health care coverage.

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