Access to care has often gone hand in hand with other healthcare reform efforts. In recent years, access to care has expanded beyond securing a primary care provider or having health insurance. Affordable healthcare, accessible and available healthcare and evolving definitions of care have become more extensive conversations in our society and up at the capital. This year, well over 200 bills aimed to address access to care, with several failing to move past the cut-off. Some are focused on the healthcare system and on addressing gaps or mistakes from past legislation. Others have adopted a broad interpretation to include more upstream and social issues in the care continuum. Here’s a small snapshot of access to care bills that are moving along this session and budget provisos we’re watching for:

Access to Care Bills

  • HB 1134 – Implementing the 988 behavioral health crisis response and suicide prevention system.
  • HB 1357 – Modernizing the prior authorization process for patients and healthcare professionals.
  • HB 1168 – Support efforts relating to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, including expanding the availability of diagnosis and family-centered treatment and addressing rates and coverage in Medicaid.
  • HB 1238 – Making school meals available to all students as part of the state’s statutory program of primary education.
  • HB 1812– Medicaid Transformation Project: ensuring sufficient spending authority for the 1115 Waiver/Medicaid Transformation Project. This waiver funds the Accountable Communities of Health across the state. The spending authority was included in the Governor’s Budget, and we expect similar outcomes in both Senate and House.
  • SB 5256 – Securing funding for community-based housing services for young people exiting the foster care program and families involved in child welfare.

Access to Care Budget Items

  • Medicare Affordability: Addressing the Medicare Affordability Cliff by expanding QMB Medicare Savings Program eligibility to 138% FPL.
  • Behavioral Health Rates: Increase Medicaid rates for community behavioral health agencies. The rate increase request is 15%. The Governor’s Budget included a 7% rate increase.
  • Home-visiting: Invest in the home-visiting workforce and expand access to voluntary home-visiting services.
  • School-based Health Centers: Expanding funding for the school-based health center program to support access to integrated healthcare in academic settings. This was maintained but not expanded in the Governor’s budget.

While several of these bills and budget items don’t direct local health jurisdictions (LHJs) to implement or fund LHJ work, public health greatly benefits from a robust care system. One of the core functions of public health is to connect people to care, so when that access is increased and enhanced, these connections can happen quicker, occur more often, and be sustained over time. This builds further coordination between public health and healthcare partners in addressing prevention programs and the social determinants of health and in turn, improves our population’s health and well-being

Jaime Bodden
WSALPHO, Policy Director