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Senate passes host of health care bills ahead of cutoff

On the final day for the Legislature to pass non-budget-related bills out of their house of origin, the Senate passed 16 health care-related bills – reinforcing the notion that this is a consequential year for health legislation.

The bills take action on a broad range of health care issues, from universal health care and a public option, to telemedicine and behavioral health.

The list of notable bills includes:

SB 5526, the Senate version of a bill that would set up a public option for health insurance across Washington, passed off the Senate floor on a 36-13 vote. Earlier in March, the House version of the bill, HB 1523, passed out of the House in a more partisan vote split of 57-41.

Meg Jones, Executive Director of the Association of Washington Healthcare Plans, explains some of the differences between the two bills, following recent amendments, in this Q&A.

The public option bill is sometimes framed as a first step to universal health care. In that vein, freshman Senator Emily Randall’s bill to “provide a pathway to universal health care” for Washington residents also passed out of the Senate. The bill directs the Health Care Authority to establish a workgroup to study and outline a path toward a universal health care system.

“I believe that no family—regardless of their income or financial situation—should go bankrupt or lose their home because they have a child born with special needs, are diagnosed with cancer, or get into a car accident,” said Randall in a press release. “This bill isn’t intended just to send a message or to check a box. It’s about taking concrete steps to prepare us for a future where we cover ALL Washingtonians” (emphasis theirs).

Senator Randi Becker’s suite of telemedicine bills also made it off the Senate floor in time for the cutoff.

SB 5385, a bill that would require providers be paid at the same rate for telemedicine and in-person services, and SB 5389, a bill to develop a school staff training program to address youth mental health, both passed on the cutoff date.

Becker’s other two telemedicine bills, SB 5386 and SB 5387, unanimously passed out of the Senate earlier in session. SB 5386 would provide additional telemedicine training for providers, and SB 5387 would establish a streamlined process for granting and renewing credentials for physicians who provide telemedicine services.

“I’m so pleased that my telemedicine bills were well received by my colleagues in the Senate. The use of telemedicine is growing and I will continue to find ways to help that along because it’s critical that underserved populations – particularly in rural areas – get better access to health care services,” said Sen. Becker in a prepared statement.

The Senate unanimously passed several other health care-related bills as the bill cutoff approached.

One bill, SB 5415, would create the Indian Health Improvement Reinvestment Account, to improve the health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Washington. Potential new programs and projectsto achieve this goal include the expansion of suicide-prevention services, the expansion of traditional healing services, increased access to culturally appropriate specialty services, or support for care coordination by tribes.

Also passing unanimously was SB 5523, which would make portions of managed care organization funding dependent on certain performance measurements, and SB 5054, which would establish a reciprocity program to increase the state’s behavioral health workforce.

The bills will now cross over to the House to be heard in House policy committees.

This article was also cross-posted at our sister site, State of Reform.