Dear friends and neighbors,
The passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Legislature’s quick action to expand Medicaid eligibility has allowed more than 650,000 Washingtonians to gain health care coverage over the last decade. As a result, our state’s uninsured rate has plummeted to single digits. Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act for a third time.
Despite this progress, uneven access and high costs prevent many people from effective access to health care. This has never been more evident than during the pandemic. Everyone should have access to quality, affordable health care. During this year’s legislative session, we continued to make progress toward that goal.
Expanding Cascade Care
In 2019, the Legislature created Cascade Care – the nation’s first public option for health care coverage – as well as a popular set of plans to make it easier to compare benefits and prices across plans. More than 33,000 Washingtonians chose a Cascade Care standard plan in the program’s first year, each saving as much as $1,000 per year in out-of-pocket costs. This year, we passed Senate Bill 5377 to give Washingtonians who purchase health care plans on the state’s Health Benefit Exchange more assistance with premiums and out-of-pocket costs, as well as more public option offerings in more counties.
Lowering the cost of prescription drugs
Senate Bill 5203 offers hope that one day soon costly prescription drugs could become available to Washingtonians in the form of far less expensive generic products. The legislation authorizes the state Health Care Authority to partner with other states, state agencies and non-profit entities to produce, distribute or purchase generic drugs. It would also require state-purchased health insurance programs to procure generic drugs through the partnership. Generics are a cheaper alternative to many name-brand drugs but just as safe and effective, and this a major step to reduce the unnecessarily high cost of drugs.
Investing in care
Starting next month, our state will be operating under a new two-year budget that directs spending for everything from education to health care. The budget includes substantially higher Medicaid reimbursement rates for doctors, dentists, nursing homes and family planning clinics. This state investment means more low-income people will have access to these vital services. The budget also eliminates the waiting list for people with developmental disabilities to access key state support and services.
Improving crisis response
The Legislature took a big step this year to improve the state’s suicide and behavioral health crisis response system by passing HB 1477 to designate 988 as the new national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline number. Having a behavioral health crisis is not illegal, and this legislation recognizes that people need a safe place to turn when they or family members are in crisis. I’m hopeful that by funding the new 988 system, we will enable more people to receive appropriate behavioral health services, with coordination from law enforcement only when safety is an issue.
Thanks for taking the time to read this update. While we have more work to do on our march toward universal health care, I’m proud Washington is making progress to address access and affordability in our current system.
If you missed my previous updates on this year’s legislative session, click here to get caught up on what the Legislature accomplished in civil rights, justice reform, childcare, climate action, tax reform, worker protections, police accountability and housing.
Senator Jamie Pedersen