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Health-Care Affordability in Spotlight During 2022 WA Session

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Thursday, January 20, 2022   

With costs growing, health care is set to be a major theme in Olympia this year.

Sam Hatzenbeler, health policy associate for the Economic Opportunity Institute, said state lawmakers have made progress, but care is still becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Hatzenbeler pointed out some Washingtonians have to make tough decisions.

"They're forced to choose between getting needed medical care and buying food, putting food on the table, paying rent, paying their car bill," Hatzenbeler outlined. "People shouldn't be forced to choose between these necessary pieces of being a human."

Across the U.S., the average worker's premium contribution has increased almost 300% over the past two decades. And Americans spend more than $1,500 each year on prescription drugs.

To tackle drug prices, state lawmakers hope to establish the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. Lawmakers approved a similar board in 2020, but Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed it because of its price tag. The Senate version of the bill had a public hearing this week.

Another measure, Senate Bill 5688, would give the attorney general oversight to ensure market consolidations don't result in increased cost.

Hatzenbeler noted the attorney general also would ensure care is not restricted.

"For example, some Catholic mergers and acquisitions have resulted in reduced access to reproductive care, gender-affirming care, end-of-life care, things like that," Hatzenbeler explained. "We want to make sure that consolidations don't result in this diminishing of care."

The bill includes a health equity assessment as well. It had a public hearing this week.

Hatzenbeler added another important provision to her organization is in the budget, and would increase funding for health care to immigrants. She reported 105,000 immigrants in the state lack health care.

Hatzenbeler emphasized low-income people, people of color and front-line workers in particular have shouldered a disproportionate impact from the pandemic.

"We have an opportunity this session to correct some of those long-standing inequities," Hatzenbeler asserted. "And make sure that health care is not only more affordable and higher quality for those people who are disproportionately impacted, but for all of us."

Disclosure: Economic Opportunity Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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