Expanding Access to Health Care: The Time is Now

November 6, 2014

An interesting article in Forbes talks about a recent McKinsey study looking into the effects of the ACA. The headline: competition and choice are increasing for consumers, and premium rate increases are slowing down. This is big news, and good news.

This time two years ago, Washington State had about 1 in 7 residents without health insurance. With the support of many organizations, including WSHA, the 2013 Legislature expanded the state’s Medicaid program. A few months later, www.wahealthplanfinder.org opened for business. Since then, about 700,000 have enrolled in either a Medicaid or Qualified Health Plan.

This is a big shift, and we are already seeing the results. Hospitals are spending much less on charity care than in previous years, which is a good indication that a growing number of patients are insured. With large federal cuts coming in the next few years, having an insured populace will help ensure that hospitals, physicians and nurses can continue to serve their communities.

We should be encouraged by our progress, but it’s not a finish line. Far from it. We still have thousands of people in our state who are without health insurance, which puts them in real physical and financial danger.

We are committed to a healthier Washington State. Connecting people with health insurance and primary care is the foundation to making progress. Hospitals are once again teaming up with the Health Benefit Exchange and local organizations to step up their enrollment efforts (see the information about the webinar below). Helping patients find health insurance may not be what hospitals did 30 years ago, but we’re better off for the stretch. Keep going.

Scott Bond
WSHA President and CEO

Exchange Open Enrollment Starts Next Weekend

The second open enrollment period for the Washington Health Plan Finder begins next Saturday, November 15 and runs through February 15, 2015. Our state achieved outstanding success during the first open enrollment period and we know our members will continue their great work during this second round. WSHA will be having a webcast on November 14 to spread the word about some important changes for this next open enrollment period. Please see the invitation for the webcast here. (Barbara Gorham, barbarag@wsha.org)

DSHS Announcement on New Mental Health Beds

Since the August 7, 2014 Washington State Supreme Court decision invalidating the use of single bed certifications to board psychiatric patients, 117 new beds are available in Western Washington to care for involuntarily detained patients. Prior to the court case, funding for many of these beds was not included in the state’s budget. As a part of its request for the Supreme Court to stay its issuance of the mandate in the case until December 26, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) agreed to provide a 60-day update on its effort to develop and fund new mental health services. Between now and December, DSHS has identified an additional 28 beds to come online for a total of 145 new beds. Click here to view the spreadsheet of beds.  WSHA supports DSHS’ longer term plans of adding more beds in areas outside of the I-5 corridor.

For the first time in many years, DSHS is planning to open 10 new beds at Western State Hospital for patients needing long-term hospitalization.   In early September, DSHS, the Governor, and legislative leadership agreed to spend up to $30 million to fund mental health services for involuntary detained patients to help comply with the court’s decision. WSHA, along with seven other organizations, filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the case, supporting the patients who were detained without psychiatric services. (Chelene Whiteaker, chelenew@wsha.org)

State Announces New RSAs as Backbone for Reform

On November 4th the Health Care Authority and the Department of Social and Health Services announced its designation of 10 regional service areas as the new structures for an integrated physical and behavioral health delivery system. These areas will be used for managed care purchasing, starting with some early adopter areas in state fiscal year 2016 and moving to a full adoption by the state in 2020. Most of the areas boundaries follow the recommendations stemming from the Adult Behavioral Health Task Force, except for the creation of a new north central Washington area.

The new North Central area was originally part of the Spokane designation but is now recognized as a separate area, served by the Spokane Regional Service Network for mental health needs under a transitional arrangement. The Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts working with community hospitals and state officials played a significant role in creating this new region – which more fully reflects the organization of the acute care health structure in the region.

The new regions will also serve as the service areas for the state’s creation of accountable communities of health – regional collaborative that the state sees as playing an important role in transforming health care at the local level. (Claudia Sanders, claudias@wsha.org)

Making  Performance Measures Meaningful: Your Comments Needed

The Governor appointed Performance Measurement Coordinating Committee just approved a draft set of performance measures. The Committee is accepting public comments on the measures through November 21, 2014. WSHA will be submitting comments and is encouraging others to do the same.

These measures will ultimately inform statewide purchasing, cost benchmarking and quality improvement. The Committee, chaired by Dorothy Teeter, Director of the Health Care Authority,  was established under  the state’s health care transformation effort as part of ESHB 2572. Carol Wagner, Senior Vice President Patient Safety for WSHA, represented hospitals on the committee while other WSHA staff members served on three technical workgroups.

WSHA largely supports the great work and recommendations of the Committee and workgroups. WSHA has surfaced some issues regarding the use and implementation of these performance measures, especially as they relate to rural and other low volume hospitals.  We will be discussing these issues further with members and the Health Care Authority For more information refer to the WSHA Bulletin. (Ian Corbridge, ianc@wsha.org)

Department of Health Issues Final Rules on Newborn Screening Regulations

The Department of Health has released final rules updating regulations for newborn screening sample collection and health provider reporting.  WSHA supported the underlying legislation to ensure newborns are rapidly screened for disorders and that parents are given the result as soon as possible.  WSHA worked closely with our member hospitals and with the staff at the Newborn Screening Office during the rule making process.  We are pleased that the department incorporated WSHA’s suggestion to clarify the time period for health provider reporting. WSHA’s comment letter is available here. (Zosia Stanley, zosias@wsha.org)


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