Tuesday, March 9, marks the next cutoff of the Washington State legislative session, when all bills must pass through their chamber of origin to continue advancing. Bills still alive will then advance through the opposite chamber. WSHA has been focusing on several high priority bills will impact health care in our state. These bills are continuing to move through the legislative process. While WSHA continues to work on many other bills, we wanted to highlight the positive developments for hospitals and health systems and the patients we serve.
WSHA strongly supports ESHB 1196, which concerns increasing access to health care services through audio-only telemedicine. The state’s current definition of telemedicine specifically excludes audio-only services. This can preclude our rural communities, senior citizens and low-income patients from accessing the care they need if they only have audio communication capabilities, making this a matter of health equity. The bill passed the House 94-3 and has been referred to the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee.
WSHA strongly supports SSB 5271, which provides legal protections for health care providers and facilities on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are pleased to report the bill has passed the Senate with unanimous support and now advances to the House. The bill amends the state’s current standard of care law to include additional considerations to reflect the challenging practice environment providers have faced during the declared emergency. These challenges have included evolving and sometimes conflicting guidance from local, state and federal health officials regarding treatment for COVID-19-infected patients, shortages of personal protective equipment and testing supplies, and the proclamation from the governor on non-urgent procedures that resulted in delayed or missed health screenings and diagnoses. WSHA worked hard to negotiate this bill in advance of the legislative session given hospitals’ central role caring for COVID patients during this pandemic.
WSHA has also been supporting SSB 5236, which extends the current exemption of Certificate of Need laws for psychiatric hospitals for an additional two years. It will also allow freestanding psychiatric hospitals a one-time addition of up to 30 long-term psychiatric beds, in addition to a one-time addition of up to 30 beds for all other types of psychiatric beds. Access to behavioral health services continues to be a top priority for WSHA.
The Government Affairs team at WSHA will continue to negotiate on several other bills. If you’d like to stay up-to-date on our legislative work, please subscribe to the WSHA legislative newsletter, Inside Olympia or review the most recent newsletter edition.