March 23, 2015

Two big telemedicine bills have hearings this week. Our primary focus continues to be on SB 5175, which requires commercial and Medicaid health plans to reimburse providers for health care services delivered through audio and video technology if the plans would cover the same service delivered face-to-face.

Read the Issue Brief here.

This bill passed the House unanimously last year and the Senate unanimously this year, so we are hopeful that the bill will be well-received at the House Health Care & Wellness committee this week. Both providers and insurers are supporting this bill, which provides clear expectations about payment for telemedicine services.

The other telemedicine bill that is up this week is SB 5986, which creates a board of telemedicine. Since cutoff for policy bills has come and gone, the bill will be discussed in a work session, meaning no action will be taken on it this year. WSHA has been invited to participate, along with the Washington State Medical Association, among others. WSHA is supportive of the concept and has some suggestions on the role of a board to move telemedicine policy forward in our state. (Chelene Whiteaker, 206/216-2545)

Mental Health

Mental health is WSHA’s top policy and budget priority this year, and it appears we are not alone—an unprecedented number of bills addressing the mental health system have been introduced.

Read our in-depth summary of mental health bills in last week’s Inside Olympia.

The mental health data bill (SB 5645) has been amended onto SB 5649 and is scheduled for a hearing in the House on March 24. This bill requires the state to keep data about the number of patients who need psychiatric detention under the Involuntary Treatment Act, but who cannot get access to a bed. The bill also requires DSHS to publicly publish single bed certification numbers. The Senate passed the data bill, 48-0. Without better data about what is happening at the patient-level, it will be impossible to get a full and accurate picture of the mental health system and to plan to make sure mental health needs are being addressed.

Read a Tacoma News Tribune article here.

SB 5649 also now requires the Department of Social and Health Services to create rules governing single bed certifications and makes technical corrections to allow for medical clearance in designated mental health professional evaluations. Much of the language in this bill started in another bill, SB 5644, but the two bills have been combined. Initially, WSHA strongly opposed the psychiatric boarding language, but worked with the sponsor to create a framework that allows workable, short-term psychiatric care in hospitals.

WSHA now supports SB 5649 and HB 1450 that seek to improve assisted outpatient treatment for patients who need intensive outpatient treatment before they are sick enough to require inpatient hospitalization. WSHA also clarified the bill to include language that once a person is found to be in need of outpatient evaluation, emergency departments can discharge the patient after EMTALA obligations are met.

Economic Impact of Hospitals

Access to a range of high-quality health care services is an important part of any local economy. To help express the impact hospitals have on the economy of the state overall, we have developed this infographic that outlines the number of patients we care for, the number of people we employee, and the amount of charity care that we provide.

Click on the image to view, download and print a PDF.

WSHA Legislative Testimony: March 23-27

WSHA staff or lobbyists will testify on the following bills.

Monday, March 23

HB 1186: Observation status (Senate Health Care) Requires notification to patients in observation status at hospitals. WSHA successfully advocated for several amendments, and continues to oppose a signature requirement, which is not currently included in the bill. (Andrew Busz, 206/-216-2533)

HB 1450: Assisted Outpatient Treatment. This bill allows an individual to be ordered to participate in outpatient assisted treatment if the person is determined to be at-risk based on past behavior and other criteria. The intent of the bill is to serve the acute mental health population before they decompensate and need involuntary treatment. (Chelene Whiteaker, 206/216-2545)

HB 1713: Crisis Substance Abuse Services. (Senate Human Service, Mental Health & Housing). This bill allows people who are a danger to themselves or others as a result of their substance use disorder to be detained under the Involuntary Treatment Act. Currently, our state has pieces of a substance abuse crisis system in law, but because secure detoxification facilities have not been funded, the laws go unused. WSHA supports improvements to crisis substance abuse services, but the system needs proper funding and capacity.  Without it, the state is creating a system that will not work and will result in the boarding of substance abuse patients. (Chelene Whiteaker, 206/216-2545)

Tuesday, March 24

SB 5649: Mental Health (House Judiciary). See article above. (Chelene Whiteaker, 206/216-2545)

SB 6045: Hospital Safety Net Assessment (Senate Ways & Means). The assessment is used to enhance Medicaid payments and help ensure that hospitals who serve high numbers of Medicaid patients are financially stable. It also enhances state funding for health care services. WSHA supports continuation through SFY 2019, assuming there is no decrease in benefits to the state or to hospitals. (Claudia Sanders, 206/216-2508)

Wednesday, March 25
SB 5175: Regarding telemedicine (House Health Care). See article above. (Chelene Whiteaker, 206/216-2545)

SB 5084: All-Payer Claims Database (House Health Care). WSHA supports the development of the APCD and is supporting changes to the current bill in order to enhance the availability of the data. (Claudia Sanders, 206/216-2508)

Thursday, March 26

SB 5986: Creating the board of telemedicine. (Senate Health Care Work Session). See article above. (Chelene Whiteaker, 206/216-2545)

Thank you for last week!

We are very thankful for everyone who came down to testify! Your testimony is essential for helping legislators and the public to understand the real impact of proposed legislation.

The following people testified last week:

  • Karen Bright, Director of Pharmacy, Olympic Medical Center
  • Dominick Caselnova III, Director of Pharmacy Southwest Washington Region Providence Health & Services


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