Washington lawmakers discuss health care policy priorities for 2023 session – State of Reform

Washington lawmakers from both sides of the aisle discussed some key health care policy priorities and issues to watch during Conference on reformed health policy in the interior of the northwestern part of the country.

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The conference included 2 panels on policy leadership. Reps. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver) and Rob Chase (R-Liberty Lake) represented the Republican panel, while Reps. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle) and Marcus Richelli (D-Spokane) represented the Democratic panel.

Macri discussed some Democratic priorities for the 2023 legislative session, saying long-term care, behavioral health and opioid/substance use will be 3 major areas of focus. She works professionally in the behavioral health sector at a non-profit organization and talks about ways to recruit more workers in the field.

“Behavioral health work is a career ladder,” Macri said. “We talk a lot about loan forgiveness and that’s really a key retention strategy. But we don’t have enough people who have the qualifications, who have the education right now. We need to help develop people. Part of this will happen through higher education. A lot of this will happen in the workplace with some sort of hybrid education and apprenticeship. How do we introduce new models to help people progress their careers and do we have the right credentials?’

Macri was helping with a lot of the crisis response work involved in implementing the new across the country 988 Suicide and Crisis Helpline.

“The nonprofit agency I work for provides a lot of mobile crisis response work for adults in the King County region,” Macri said. “The credentials we have in behavioral health may not be ideal for the credentials that serve us best in a crisis response system. So as we look to expand this system, what are the certifications and credentials, what are the types of facility licenses that we need? Just getting creative to meet current needs will be part of the conversation we’re going to have.”

Richelli said he will focus on workforce shortages in behavioral health and oral health.

“I will continue to be a champion of oral health,” Richelli said. “I think too many times that’s left out of the equation. It puts people in emergency rooms just like a lot of other things. I was thrilled to hear that the Department of Health and [Health Care Authority] are watching [hiring] dental director. They believe it could also unlock some federal funds. This is great. I sponsored a bill 3 or 4 years ago I watched a dental director. I think focusing on that is important. I still believe oral health is kind of like behavioral health was maybe 5 or 6 years ago in that we’re talking about treating the whole person.”

Macri said legislation on abortion access was also likely to be introduced.

“We’ve been doing a lot of analysis on the impact of access to care for patients,” Macri said. “We are seeing an increase in out-of-state patients coming to seek care here in Washington state. We expect to see some policy in both… The protections we can put in place for providers and patients and patient access. That was a priority.”

Harris said the health care workforce shortage and mental health will be 2 key GOP priorities for the 2023 legislative session.

“There’s a shortage in every workforce right now,” Harris said. “We compete in the health care arena like everyone else. I think the hot topic coming into next year will still be mental health. Mental health will continue to be an important piece of legislation for the next session.

Chase said mental health will be a priority for him as well. He gained a lot of experience in this field after adopting several foster children, one of whom had fetal alcohol syndrome.

“It was a roller coaster, but now he works at Enterprise Rent-A-Car,” Chase said. “He’s a detailer; he loves it. He got married. This is a success story. We must help the helpless. These people are helpless. It’s not fair to them.”

Harris was asked if he supported the possibility of Washington joining the Nurse Licensing Agreement.

“I think the Nursing Compact is a barrier to attracting nurses to our state,” Harris said. “It’s an issue where people control their environment, and I kind of understand that. Although, if we do have a shortage, I hope we’ll start to loosen that up a little bit, because I believe we need more nurses. We need more CNAs. We need more of everything.”

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