As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health Care Committee, one of my top legislative priorities has been to expand our medical workforce, including both physicians and other health care professionals. Health care expansion has finally brought health insurance to hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured Washingtonians but without meaningful access to the right providers, having insurance coverage itself may not make much of a difference to many people.

There remains a significant debate about how to finance more medical education through the University of Washington’s exceptional medical school and the new proposed WSU medical school, and I am working hard to ensure the full funding required for the UW medical expansion in the final budget. In the meantime, we’re taking additional critical steps.

Earlier this year, I proposed legislation to fund the Health Professional Loan Repayment program. This provides better medical school loan repayment options for health care professionals willing to locate in underserved areas. That funding is now in the budget proposal under consideration by the House and Senate. Additionally,  today the Senate passed key legislation to expand medical residencies in underserved areas. I worked with colleagues in both parties,  the Washington State Medical Association and the UW on this measure and was the prime sponsor of the Senate version of this bill. UW will continue to manage the network in close consultation with the other medical schools and both budgets contain expanding funding for the residencies, albeit at different levels. I am hopeful that by the end of the session, we will see an expansion of this funding and the new structure for managing the residency program.  This is important because where a doctor serves their residency is the best predictor of where they’ll continue to practice.

Between expanded residencies and better health loan repayment options, I believe we’re making real progress this session on expanding our health care workforce in parts of our state that have the greatest need.