Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are just about halfway through the 60-day legislative session scheduled to adjourn March 13. This week and next mark two critical deadlines: The first is the “cutoff” for bills to pass out of committee so they can be considered for a vote in the House. The second “cutoff” is the date when fiscal bills, or those that have budget considerations, must pass out of committee and await a vote in the House. If a bill doesn’t cross either or both of these hurdles, it is “dead” and cannot, without procedural processes, move forward in the Legislature.
I’m working to pass two measures that I think are critical to the health and well-being of Washingtonians.
Innovative health care solutions are critical to good health, lower costs
As part of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, our job is to come up with ways to drive down costs and harness innovation in the health care system. My legislation, House Bill 2565, would accomplish both of these goals. It is aimed at improving quality care and health outcomes by building a strong relationship between physicians and their patients when it comes to encouraging healthy behaviors. Whether it is a smoking cessation program or weight loss, the goal is to have that working relationship and mutual accountability between doctors and patients in order to have the best outcomes that, in turn, drive down health care costs for patients.
This idea is being tested in Oklahoma where the state put in place a pilot project to look at the cost effectiveness of incentivizing healthy behaviors. The state estimates a total cost savings of $60-70 million. Michigan is piloting this approach with its Medicaid patients. Here at home, we have a hospital in the Tri-Cities that implemented this approach as a way to not only strengthen the bond between physicians and patients, but to ensure quality care is supported by quality health and lifestyle choices. As a result, hospitalizations have decreased significantly.
My bill is just a start to see if this could be implemented more broadly in Washington. It has strong bipartisan support and even the governor has talked about how we can encourage healthy behaviors beginning with state employees. I think we should always look outside the box to find creative and workable solutions, particularly when it comes to something as personal as health care and wellness.
We must do more to help those with mental illness
In the House Judiciary Committee this week, we heard testimony on House Bill 2725, which would create a new appeal process for family and close friends when county officials decline to order an involuntary commitment of someone suffering from severe mental illness. In these dire situations the bill would allow immediate family members to ask a Superior Court judge to consider the case, and if an involuntary commitment is approved, to oversee the treatment and progress of the patient.
Sadly, this bill came to us out of a tragic situation in Seattle. Close friends and family of Joel Reuter tried desperately to get him committed involuntarily. He was suffering a schizophrenic episode and falling deeper and deeper into the illness. But because of our very narrow laws on involuntary commitment, Joel did not get the treatment he needed and was killed by law enforcement as he brandished a gun, fearing zombies were chasing him.
Mental illness is a health care crisis in this state and nation. Knowing this, I was surprised to hear our mental health advocates testify against this bill. We are housing patients with mental illness in our emergency rooms, many are homeless or in and out of jail. All of this to say, I understand we need a high bar to involuntarily commit someone for treatment, but we also need to have a way for the people who know a person best to appeal to a higher authority in life-and-death situations, such as Joel’s.
The Seattle Times had an eye-opening series on the lack of funding for mental health treatment and beds in the proper facilities to treat those suffering from serious mental illnesses. The paper also covered the public hearing on House Bill 2725 this week. Here are some of the articles:
- ‘Boarding’ mentally ill becoming epidemic in state
- Some mental-health officials oppose commitment bill
- COLUMN: Time to overhaul Washington state’s broken mental-health system (Jonathan Martin)
All of us want the best care for those suffering with mental illness, and this bill would be a good step to help our most vulnerable residents who are oftentimes in need of life-saving treatment.
You can listen to my thoughts on these two issues on my video update linked above. As always, please feel free to contact my office with questions and concerns. Thank you for allowing me to serve you.