Friday, January 27, 2023

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WA Lawmakers Look to Tackle Staggering Health Care Cost Increases

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023   

Lawmakers in Olympia have introduced a host of measures to address one of the biggest issues facing Washingtonians: rising health care costs.

A survey from November found more than four of five people in the state worry about being able to afford health care in the future.

Jim Freeburg, executive director of the Patient Coalition of Washington, said increasing costs affect the health decisions people make.

"It's people that can't afford their medications and so, they skip doses, or they delay care, just because they're so scared about getting the bill," Freeburg observed. "We just see instances like this all the time."

Measures introduced this session would tackle costs on a number of fronts. They include bills to combat the increasing number of health system mergers, examine prescription drug prices and strengthen the authority of the Health Care Cost Transparency Board, which was created in 2020.

Bill Kramer, executive director of health care policy for the Purchaser Business Group on Health, said increased costs hurt businesses, too. He noted employers provide coverage to more than half of Americans and explained providing coverage is valuable to employees, but is becoming less sustainable.

"High health care costs are crowding out jobs, wages and business investment, and are a real drag on the economy," Kramer pointed out.

One measure in Olympia would reduce the power large health care systems have when negotiating with insurance companies on prices.

Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, a sponsor of the bill, said the health care systems sometimes take an "all or nothing" approach where they say they will only contract with a particular facility if providers contract with all the facilities in a state or region.

"In some places, that might not be the best or lowest-cost option available," Robinson noted. "So, they're basically using their market share to drive up the cost of health care."

Robinson added the Senate bill would restrict uncompetitive practices when negotiating prices. It has a public hearing in Olympia on Friday.


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