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April 27, 2021

WSMA Sees 100% Success Rate Among 2021 Legislative Priorities

By any measure, the 2021 legislative session was extraordinary, both in terms of being conducted online and the monumental gains that were made for patients and the physician community. WSMA achieved a 100% success rate in passing our priority bills and defending against those we opposed. On the budget side, generational investments were made, including $140 million for Medicaid rate increases and nearly $150 million for foundational public health services in the next two years alone.

Significant funding for Medicaid, public health, and more in final budget

Session adjourned as scheduled on Sunday after legislators approved a $59.2 billion state operating budget for the two-year period that begins on July 1. Making use of federal stimulus funds and the establishment of a new state capital gains tax, budget writers responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and sought to help foster economic recovery. The final budget adopted by the Legislature does not increase taxes on physicians and funds all of WSMA's priority budget items, including the following appropriations:

  • $140 million for Medicaid rate increases effective Oct. 1, including 15% increases for primary care and behavioral health services, and 21% for pediatric services.
  • $147 million for foundational public health services in the 2021-23 budget, and $296 million in the 2023-25 budget.
  • $1.1 billion to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including funds for vaccines, testing, and public health workforce.
  • $34 million for medical education supports, including $16 million for family medicine residencies and more than $10 million for behavioral health professional loan repayment.

COVID-19 liability protections, PPE expenses, health equity education, and more

On the policy side, all of WSMA's priority bills were passed by the Legislature, including mandating commercial insurers reimburse providers for PPE expenses, extending coverage and payment parity for audio-only telemedicine services to largely track with services delivered in person and via audio/visual telemedicine, establishing COVID-19 liability protections, and promoting health equity through continuing medical education. These bills represent significant wins for physicians and the patients they serve, and they are only a portion of the story, with many other bills the WSMA supported being passed this year.

An equally important part of legislative advocacy is defending against bills that the house of medicine opposes and the WSMA was similarly successful here, preventing the passage of bills that would have increased the scope of practice for naturopaths, mandated reimbursement for ARNP services at parity with those provided by physicians, expanded the state's Death with Dignity law, and created a new allowance for private attorneys to bring lawsuits on behalf of the state against physician practices and other businesses. No bill that WSMA opposed that would have had a substantial impact on the physician community passed the Legislature this year.

As always, WSMA member advocacy drove our work in the 2021 session and was reflected in a number of budget provisos and bills passed this year. Examples include the aforementioned health equity CME, supported by WSMA pursuant to a host of policies adopted at the 2020 House of Delegates, legislation establishing a clean fuel standard to help address climate change (2019 policy), addressing lead in drinking water (2018 policy), and a budget proviso building out the state Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention (2019 policy).

Join us for session wrap-up webinar on May 7

There's much more news to share from the 2021 session, and for those who are interested in a comprehensive update can register to join the Advocacy Council meeting at noon on Friday, May 7, where WSMA's Government Affairs and Policy Department staff will be walking through everything that happened in Olympia this year and looking ahead to what's on tap in the coming months. In the meantime, if you have questions about anything related to legislative advocacy, contact WSMA's Government Affairs Director Sean Graham at sean@wsma.org.

Join or renew your membership today!