Although you might have already seen it in “Weekly Report,” we are thrilled to share with you that our telemedicine bill passed the House last week and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate and by a huge majority in the House.
As Scott Bond said last week, “Telemedicine will save lives and improve patient care. By bringing specialists and patients face-to-face, those who are suffering strokes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, psychiatric crisis and other conditions will be able to get expert consultations. Telemedicine brings services to people who would otherwise have a hard time accessing care. The usefulness in rural communities is obvious, but it’s also useful in urban areas.
This is a major step forward in our work to make high-quality care accessible to all of our communities. We are very grateful to all of our members who worked so hard on the bill, and the House and Senate members who recognized its value to patients. We are also grateful to WSHA’s own Chelene Whiteaker, whose commitment and deep knowledge of the issue helped everyone find a path forward.”
Senate Budget Proposal on Hospital Safety Net Assessment Program
The WSHA board last week confirmed its support for the House version of the hospital safety net assessment program and its opposition to the Senate version. The Senate proposal is significantly worse for hospitals and does not meet the requests the WSHA board made on how this program should be structured.
WSHA staff was able to meet with Senate staff last week to clarify the Senate proposal for the hospital safety net program. In comparison to the House version, the Senate proposal increases the assessment on hospitals above the levels it has been previously and then takes an additional $47 million over the biennium for the state. It also diverts $20 million of the biennial hospital benefits to support additional residency slots. While WSHA supports adding funds for more residencies, we believe this program should be supported through the state general fund.
The hospital safety net assessment is a carefully structured tax that is used to leverage federal dollars to help cover the cost of hospital services provided to Medicaid patients (Medicaid only pays about 70 percent of the cost of care). The program was designed to allow both the state and hospitals to benefit when revenues increase from the assessment pool.
In order to maintain their “no new tax” commitment and still raise additional revenue to fund the state services, the Senate budget took a disproportionate share of funds for state services. In 2010, the state raided the assessment revenue and used both the state and the hospital funds to fill gaps in the state budget. Given this background, the WSHA Board created a set of guidelines under which it could endorse an expanded safety net assessment program, including certain protections for hospitals.
Senate Capital Budget and HB 2212
The Senate capital budget is excellent for mental health. The capital budget makes $30 million in investments in mental health facilities. The Senate earmarks $18 million to organizations for specific mental health capital projects around the state, with an additional $12 million to be dispersed through competitive grants. WSHA is excited to see this investment level from the Senate as it would go a long way in serving patients in crisis and putting an end to psychiatric boarding. Grant applicants must use capital funds to open new evaluation and treatment (inpatient, involuntary services), crisis stabilization or triage services.
HB 2212 seeks to support the capital mental health funding by exempting hospitals from Certificate of Need when they receive capital fund grants. The bill passed the House unanimously last week. This means that if a hospital receives a grant from the Department of Commerce to open evaluation and treatment services, they will automatically be exempted Certificate of Need for those beds. This exemption allows hospitals to more quickly expand in-patient psychiatric capacity in the state.
Making improvements to the state’s mental health services was WSHA’s top legislative priority for both policy and budget. Although truly meeting the state’s needs will likely take years of investment, this has been a remarkably successful year for setting transformation in motion. We deeply appreciate the Democrats and Republicans who recognized the need and worked hard this session to build a path forward. (Chelene Whiteaker, 206/216-2545)
What’s Next? Bridging the House-Senate Budget Gap
The budgets have both passed their respective houses and are now on the way to conference committee where they will be reconciled. The gap between them is considerable. The House budget includes about a billion more dollars in revenue than the Senate budget does, and Senate leaders have continued to voice their commitment to a “no new taxes” budget.
Although this session is scheduled to end April 26, legislative staff continue to say they plan to extend their gym memberships until June.
This coming week, the attention will likely be on the transportation package. Caucus time, floor action, and conference committees will also take up most of the time.