Registration is now open for the 2023 Washington State of Reform Health Policy Conference! Register to join us at our first conference of 2023, which will be held at the Westin Seattle on Thursday, January 5th!
The State of Reform team is hard at work putting together a diverse array of timely panel topics and speakers for the event—more from us on this soon!
In this week’s newsletter, we include expert insight on cross-state care collaboration, information about newly announced affordable housing grants, and an update on Washington’s COVID-19 emergency health orders.
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State of Reform
1. Strategies for strengthening cross-state care
Speakers discussing Washington and Alaska’s medical relationship at last month’s Alaska State of Reform conference highlighted the importance of continuing to support cross-state care collaboration. Alaska patients are frequently referred to Washington medical facilities for needed specialty care, and many Washington providers conducted telehealth visits with Alaskans during the pandemic.
Now that Alaska’s lifting of interstate medical licensure rules for telehealth has ended, UW Medicine’s Chief Digital Health Officer Dr. John Scott told the audience he’s working to get more providers licensed in Alaska after seeing the high demand for this cross-state care during the pandemic. His fellow panelist Dr. Lance Dunlop of PNW University Sciences said giving Washington students residencies in Alaska is a good way to meet this demand for care, saying many of these students choose to stay in Alaska to practice.
2. DOC distributes $5 million to support affordable housing
The Washington State Department of Commerce recently announced its allocation of $5 million in grants to help fund the construction of 1,102 affordable housing units across 12 counties. The funding comes from the department’s Connecting Housing to Infrastructure Program, which supports the creation of affordable housing by paying for fees associated with water, sewer, and storm water infrastructure in affordable housing units.
“The difference between 22% rent increases and 19% income increases is 3%, so you can see the mismatch in Washington, as a whole, between rents and incomes,” said DOC’s Housing Policy Director Tedd Kelleher at a recent legislative meeting, illustrating the need for such initiatives. The cities receiving the most funding are Everett ($1 million for 430 units) and Kirkland ($1 million for 300 units).
3. What They’re Watching: Anthony Woods, Amerigroup Washington
Anthony Woods is the President and CEO of Amerigroup Washington. The public health emergency (PHE) was recently extended through Jan. 11th, 2023, but health care providers have been preparing for its end for several months. Amerigroup will continue to do so, Woods said during this “What They’re Watching” interview, as approximately 2,000 customers could lose health coverage when the PHE eventually ends.
“We’re really aligning ourselves to the state and their specific needs,” Woods said. “We have a couple thousand individuals that are going to lose health benefits. Where are they going to go? We want to make sure we’re in lockstep, not just with the Health Care Authority, but with providers, on getting that demographic information to make sure we can do whatever we can to make sure they maintain their coverage.”
4. Billboards will inform abortion seekers about Washington State’s protections
To ensure abortion seekers from other states are aware of Washington’s robust abortion protections, the Northwest Abortion & Gender Justice Coalition is installing “Dear Abortion Seeker” billboards in the eastern part of the state. The effort is a response to the numerous state abortion bans—namely in neighboring Idaho—that have emerged following June’s Roe overturn.
“The billboards say that Washington protects abortion providers and welcomes abortion seekers, and that they’re safe here,” said Mercedes Sanchez of Cedar River Clinics, which is helping with the project. “That is for visibility and to comfort out-of-state patients coming to Washington for care.” So far, 2 of these billboards are slated to be installed in Spokane and Yakima by the end of the month.
5. All state COVID emergency orders ending by November
All of Washington State’s COVID-19 emergency orders are set to end before November. Gov. Inslee has already lifted around three quarters of his 85 total emergency orders. He will rescind another 13 such orders (including rules related to health provider training and certification) on Oct. 27th and will lift the final 10 orders (including rules related to vaccination requirements for health professionals) by Halloween.
State leadership has affirmed that these changes don’t mean COVID is no longer a threat to Washingtonians, but rather signals a shift in approach focused on adapting to living with the virus. Inslee clarified that COVID vaccinations will remain a condition of employment for most state agencies, that private employers can still choose to require vaccination for employees, and that the statewide face covering requirement will remain in place for health care and long-term care settings, as well as in certain correctional facilities.