The following story appears in the Washington State Labor Council’s 2017 Legislative Report published in August.
By KATHARINE WEISS
Amid threats from the Republican Congress and Trump administration to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and the Healthy Washington Coalition continued to prioritize affordable, accessible health coverage for all Washingtonians. The coalition made important headway in improving the health-care landscape during the 2017 session. Those legislative gains included:
Expanding the Washington State Health Insurance Pool — WSHIP is an independent program that provides coverage for individuals who have been denied insurance based on pre-existing conditions. This is critical for making sure that the most vulnerable have access to affordable coverage. It is also a significant cost-control tool. The program relies on funding from the Legislature and was set to expire at the end of 2017. Currently, 1,500 Washingtonians receive coverage as a result of the WSHIP program. SHB 1338, sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Seattle), extended the expiration date for WSHIP funding to 2022. The bill guarantees that individuals ineligible for Medicare or those that do not have access to a reasonable choice of Medicare plans can maintain coverage. It easily passed both houses and was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Expanded Access to Contraceptive Coverage — HB 1234 from Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett) and HB 5554 from Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) require private insurance companies to dispense up to 12 months of birth control at a time to patients. Thanks to the tenacious work of the sponsors, Planned Parenthood, and the Healthy Washington Coalition, this bill successfully passed both chambers (see Senate Vote #11 and House Vote #4), a vital step in increasing reproductive health access for women.
Prescription Drug Transparency — Over the past 10 years consumers have watched prescription drug prices skyrocket. Between 2013 and 2015, Washington State Health Care Authority’s drug spending increased by 45 percent, from $798 million to $1.2 billion. This explains why a recent Kaiser Health News Poll showed that 86 percent of Americans support legislation that would require drug companies to release information on how they set prices.
HB 1541, sponsored by Rep. Robinson, set out to provide much-needed transparency and accountability from drug companies about how they price their products. It required drug manufacturers to report on price increases and their impact on health premiums. It would have been a critical step towards helping identify and control the major cost drivers of prescription drugs. HB 1541 passed the House on a party-line vote (see Vote #8), but died in the Senate Health Care Committee.
The WSLC will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect and improve upon the Affordable Care Act’s progress in expanding access to affordable health care coverage.