health benefit exchange needs basic standards to succeed
A major battle is
unfolding in Olympia this session that could determine whether federal health
care reform succeeds or fails in Washington State when its biggest component
is implemented in 2014. The debate pits the concerns of health care consumers
against the priorities of the powerful insurance industry regarding
Washington's new health benefit exchange, a menu of private and federally
subsidized health plans from which consumers can choose starting that year.
The battle lines
were drawn last week in health care committee hearings on governor-requested
legislation -- SB 6178 sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) and HB 2319
sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle). Testifying in support of the
bills, the Insurance Commissioner's Office and advocates for consumers said
that, without restrictions on the types of bare-bones cut-rate coverage
offered on the open private insurance market -- which will operate outside the
realm of the exchange -- insurers will cream the healthiest customers from the
market, prohibitively driving up the costs of the plans within the exchange.
They argued that insurers should compete based on the quality of their service
and efficiency of their administration rather than on who can offer the most
deceptively cheap catastrophic coverage that keeps appropriate medical care
out of reach for consumers.
insurance card doesn't translate into having access to medical care if the
coverage is inaccessible, unaffordable or inadequate," said the Teresa
Mosqueda, Legislative and Policy Director for the Washington State Labor
Council, who serves as Chair of the Healthy Washington Coalition.
But the tassel-toed
insurance industry lobbyists were out in force to demand that the state stick
to the minimum federal requirements set forth in the Affordable Care Act—a
law they have adamantly opposed from the outset and continually erected
roadblocks to slow its implementation. They oppose any attempt by legislators
to customize state rules regarding requiring certain types of plans and levels
of coverage offered in Washington's exchange to ensure its affordability and
sustainability, which is what SB 6178 and HB 2319 do.
profit-driven corporate health care model resulted in creative methods of
denying medical care, restricting patients' choices, and inefficient,
cumbersome and costly administrative hurdles for consumers, small businesses
and health care providers. Insurance companies left to their own devices is
what caused the crisis in uninsured Americans and prompted the Affordable Care
Act in the first place. The vocal insurers who are continuing to oppose
additional regulations will undercut the health benefit exchange in Washington
State. Consumer advocates continue to urge members of the Legislature to hold
firm on sufficient and smart market participation standards, and to ensure
consumer friendly health plan criteria.
The WSLC joins Gov.
Chris Gregoire, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, and advocates for
consumers in supporting SB 6178 and HB 2319 to establish a health care
exchange in Washington that does not adhere to the one-size-fits-all federal
minimums. Let's create an exchange that works for us, one that is simplified,
fair, and designed to succeed in expanding affordable, accessible coverage for
on jobs bill Wednesday
of both parties continue to express support for the concept of the
Infrastructure Jobs Bond: frontloading capital projects to create desperately
needed jobs now. But, as the clock ticks on creating these jobs in time for
the coming construction season, negotiations continue on the size of the
package and the specific list of projects.
coalition supporting this legislation will hold a press briefing this
Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the Senate's Cherberg Building. Construction workers,
contractors, small business owners, veterans, service workers, and others who
would benefit from the Infrastructure Jobs Bond will explain why they support
In addition, the WSLC will be
sharing video clips of unemployed workers -- like Terri Johnson, Anthony
Campbell and Miranda Gonzales (below) — telling their stories to remind
state legislators that the jobs crisis continues, especially in the
breaks for patient safety
week, the Senate Labor, Commerce and Workforce Development Committee had a
compelling hearing on SB 6309, sponsored by Sen. Margarita Prentice
(D-Renton). Nurses and public safety advocates made a strong case for passing
this bill to require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses and
health-care professionals who provide direct patient care. SB 6309 also
protects hospital workers from retaliation or being fired if they report
drivers and others whose work affects public safety already have minimum
standards for rest breaks to avoid impaired judgment and mistakes. Why
shouldn't nurses? Every year, an estimated 100,000 patients in this country
die from preventable medical errors, injuries and deaths at hospitals, and
studies show that fatigue is one of the primary causes of those errors. Meal
and rest breaks will help patient care providers stay alert and focused, which
will improve patient safety. The bill allows for exceptions to uninterrupted
breaks in response to critical patient care for patient emergencies and major
SB 6309 is part of
a package of patient safety legislation supported by the Washington
Association of Nurses, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, UFCW Local 21, United Staff
Nurses Union/UFCW 141, and the WSLC. The other two bills, both sponsored by
Rep. Tami Green (D-Tacoma) are HB 2519 setting minimum standards for safer
nurse staffing and HB 2501 placing restrictions on mandatory overtime for
health-care workers. Both bills are scheduled to be heard Tuesday at 10 a.m.
in House Labor & Workforce Development.
In 2011, the City
of Seattle joined a growing list of municipalities around the country that, in
the interest of public safety and fundamental workplace rights, established a
minimum standard for the provision of paid sick leave for all workers. Small
business owners, public health experts, communities of faith, and labor
advocates joined together to support the passage of this historic legislation.
It's time to extend
this basic protection to all workers in Washington. An estimated 1 million
workers in our state get no paid time off when they are sick, including
170,000 in food service and accommodation, 167,000 in retail, and 93,000 in
health care and social assistance. Paid sick days are needed to prevent the
spread of disease and ensure people can care for their health needs without
losing a day's pay, or their job.
SB 6229, sponsored
by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), and HB 2508, sponsored by Rep. Mary
Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle) will both have committee hearings this week. Under
these bills, businesses with 5 or more employees must allow workers to accrue
at least 1 hour for every 40 worked up to a 40-hour cap. The caps on banking
sick leave hours would be higher for larger businesses.
SB 6229 will be
heard Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Labor & Commerce. HB 2508 will be
heard Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in House Labor & Workforce Development. The
WSLC joins many others in supporting this legislation.
public workers, legislators
As our state was
slammed by snow and ice storms last week, with Olympia and Southwest
Washington particularly hard hit, the following statement was issued by Jeff
Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council:
winter storms were a striking reminder for all of how important our public
employees are in keeping essential services running and repairing downed power
lines. We owe a great deal of thanks to our city, county and state public
works employees, our first responders, our health care workers, our transit
workers, and our electrical linemen.
"Kudos also to
our state legislators and legislative staff who braved the snow and ice to
continue doing the peoples' work. All of these workers exemplify the best of
in contracting reform
HB 2452, sponsored
by Rep. Sharon Wylie (D-Vancouver), cracks down on state contracting abuses
and streamlines the process. At a hearing last week, the Washington Fair Trade
Coalition suggested amending the bill to require officials choosing contracts
to consider whether a business ensures decent working conditions for employees
at home and abroad.
Our state shouldn't
reward "irresponsible bidders" that violate domestic and
international labor standards in order to undercut their competitors who play
by the rules. The WSLC supports this amendment to HB 2452 and urges its
hearings this week
Some more important
hearings this week:
INSTITUTIONS -- Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., SB 6310 (Sen. Keiser) to
create a Washington Investment Trust.
& FINANCIAL SERVICES -- Thursday at 8 a.m., HB 2434 (Rep.
Hasegawa) to create a Washington Investment Trust.
& COMMERCE -- Thursday at 10 a.m., SB 6397 (Sen. Kohl-Welles)
protecting workers and communities from pesticide draft (companion HB 2413
from Rep. Reykdal was heard last week).
SENATE LABOR & COMMERCE --
Monday, Jan. 30 at 10 a.m., SB 6302 (Sen. Kohl-Welles) to protect
injured workers' access to medical care by clarifying due process
protections for physicians in the workers' compensation medical providers
network (companion HB 2359 from Rep. Reykdal was heard last week).
tuned at The Stand!
Legislative Update newsletter will be published every Tuesday during the 2012
session, outlining the legislative agenda of the Washington State Labor
Council and its affiliated unions.
In addition, stay
apprised of developments in Olympia at The Stand -- www.TheStand.org
-- Your Internet Newsstand in Washington State. It features daily updates on
legislative action, plus all other news affecting working families.
Questions about anything you've
read in the WSLC Legislative Update? E-mail
David Groves or call me at 206-281-8901.
EDITIONS of the 2012 WSLC Legislative Update:
FRONTLOAD JOBS! Start 2012 session with positive, proactive Infrastructure
Jobs bill -- As
the 2012 legislative session begins, labor and business advocates are
continuing their unprecedented partnership urging the Washington State
Legislature to put jobs first. Business and labor interests are supporting
investment in our state economy by urging passage of a $2 billion
Infrastructure Jobs Bond as quickly as possible to boost struggling
17 -- IT'S STILL
ABOUT THE JOBS: Priority bills would create jobs, retain jobs, ensure job
the jobs crisis by passing the Infrastructure Jobs Bond remains the WSLC's top priority in the 2012 session, there are
several priority policy bills supported by the WSLC that also merit passage.
This edition of the Legislative Update describes some of those priority bills.
Plus, descriptions of some bad workers' compensation and minimum wage bills.