Mental health tops list of legislative priorities for Washington state hospitals

January 8, 2015

Priorities also include supporting telemedicine services, cost and quality transparency, flexibility for meeting demands of Affordable Care Act, and continuation of hospital safety net assessment program


Seattle (January 6, 2015)—As the Washington State Legislature prepares to convene, the state’s hospitals and health systems are working to build on the state’s recent gains in health care.

“We are very focused on the public’s access to health care services, and the quality of those services,” said Cassie Sauer, Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “Since the Legislature voted to expand Medicaid two years ago, 700,000 Washington state residents have become insured and now have access to health care. We’ve also made real improvements in the quality of that care in that same time. We’re going to keep the focus on access and quality in the coming session.”

The Board of Trustees approved the list of WSHA legislative priorities at its December meeting. The full list is published online at Some of the highlights:

Mental Health: The state Supreme Court’s decision in the psychiatric boarding case puts tremendous pressure on the state to properly fund mental health services. WSHA will be supporting funding for inpatient and outpatient services, reduced rehospitalizations, community support and housing services. In addition, WSHA will advocate for legislation to track patients in need of psychiatric care for whom no bed is available.

WSHA will also be working to make it easier for mental health and primary care services to be integrated, for hospitals to provide inpatient treatment, and for psychiatric professionals to enter the field.

Telemedicine: Telemedicine is a clear route to getting patients connected to quality health care services. This is not email or electronic medical records: specifically, telemedicine is the use of video technology to provide direct clinical services services, including dermatology, mental health, post-surgery monitoring and others. However, hospitals and physicians cannot make investments in the technology if there is uncertainty about payment. WSHA supports legislation that guarantees that if an insurer covers a clinical service on a face-to-face basis, the same service using video technology will also be covered.

Cost and Quality Transparency: WSHA not only advocates for transparency, it provides it. A new website enabling the public to compare hospitals on quality is also available at Average prices for all hospitals in the state are published at

WSHA is also in support of a strengthened all-payer claims database (APCD), which is used to show how utilization and costs are connected. A robust and accessible APCD will help us see to see whether services are being provided in the right setting, what services are used before and after a hospital visit, and what variations exist. Policymakers will be able to use the data, but providers will also be able to use the data to drive improvement in the health care system.

Continuation of Hospital Safety Net Assessment Program: Because Medicaid does not pay for the full cost of health care services, the state created a Hospital Safety Net Assessment Program to help compensate hospitals who have a high proportion of Medicaid patients and to bring in substantial funds to the state to support health care services. The assessment is essentially a tax that hospitals levy on themselves. The state uses the assessment to access federal matching funds that then support both the state’s General Fund and health care services in high-poverty communities. The assessment program contributes about $100 million to the General Fund annually; without the assessment, patients, hospitals and the state would suffer.

Health Care Funding: The Washington State Legislature has a significant budget gap to close, but reducing access to quality health care in our communities would move the state in the wrong direction. The Governor’s proposed budget cuts $42 million from hospital-based clinics that provide primary and specialty care to patients with Medicaid. These cuts would have a huge impact on these patients, who will likely find it difficult to find other clinics who accept Medicaid, particularly for specialty care such cancer care, wound care, and craniofacial surgery.

The cuts would not provide any financial benefit for Medicaid patients, but could reduce clinics’ ability to accept low-income Washington residents as patients and could impact availability of services to other patients.

WSHA in Partnership with Physicians

WSHA works closely with the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) in and outside of the legislative session.

“Many physician leaders are also hospital leaders, and both of our members are committed to ensuring that our communities have access to high-value health care services,” Sauer said.

Some of the overlapping issues for both WSHA and WSMA are supporting loan repayment for physicians working in underserved areas; increasing the number of residency training slots; and increasing the Medicaid payment rates for primary care practitioners and clinics.

WSMA’s legislative priorities can be found online here.

About WSHA

The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) represents all of Washington’s 99 community hospitals. The association takes a major leadership role in issues that affect delivery, quality, accessibility, affordability and continuity of health care. It works to improve the health status of the residents of Washington State. WSHA is online at


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