The Washington State Legislature adjourned its 2019 session on April 28 after nearly 4 months and almost 3,000 bill introductions. Highlights of the session included landmark health care bills passing and the state’s largest budget in history. A few of the key issues that Kaiser Permanente was involved with include:
(HB 1074). The legal minimum age for purchasing tobacco and vapor products was raised from 18 to 21 in a significant public health victory for Washington state. As part of a broad coalition of physicians and public health advocates, Kaiser Permanente helped add Washington to a growing national movement that’s addressing youth nicotine use.
Business and occupation tax increase
(HB 2158). In an effort to fund higher education and workforce development, the legislature increased the business and occupation tax from 1.5% to 1.8% for industries that primarily rely on an educated workforce, including physician practices. The increase is expected to raise $376 million in new revenue and dedicates $24.1 million to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Career Connected Learning initiative.
(SB 5526). Washington state passed a highly contentious, first-in-the-nation public option insurance plan. The state will offer public health care plans that cover standard services to all residents, regardless of income, by 2021. The plans will be administered by private insurance companies, but the plan’s terms, which include a provider reimbursement rate cap, are set by the state. Kaiser Permanente is deeply concerned that the insufficient rate cap will result in low provider participation in the public option and cost-shifting to the commercial insurance market.
(HB 1065). After years of negotiations between health care providers, hospitals, and insurers, a ban on balance billing (patients being billed the difference between what a provider charges and what their health plan covers) was signed into law. Balance billing is common when patients receive care from an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility. The ban, which begins in 2020, is a major step toward protecting consumers from unexpected health care bills.