January marks the beginning of the 2018 legislative session. During this short, 60-day session, WSNA is focused on nurse education funding, public health funding, securing uninterrupted meal and rest breaks, ending surprise medical billing, addressing the opioid epidemic and expanding access to mental health services.

Our top priority

Rest breaks

WSNA is continuing our efforts to pass HB 1715, which requires nurses and other health care workers be provided with uninterrupted meal and rest breaks – allowing nurses to provide the highest quality patient care. Additionally, HB 1715 closes the mandatory overtime loophole by clarifying that employers may not use prescheduled on-call time to fill chronic or foreseeable vacancies due to staff shortages. We know that nurses who work shifts of 12.5 hours or longer are three times more likely to miss things – putting patients at risk.

Budget priorities

Nurse education funding

Support new scholarship and loan repayment programs for providers, including adding advance practice health profession degrees to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship program. Provider shortages affect everyone. When there are not enough health care providers, health access is limited, costs go up and wait times increase. Scholarship and loan repayment programs help rural and underserved communities by incentivizing providers to locate there – and these programs help provide financial stability for nurses.

Public health funding

In the 2017 state legislative session, the legislature provided a new, one-time $12 million investment in core public health services. This seed money is essential to support Foundational Public Health Services, especially as it struggles to address the spiking rates of communicable disease across our state. While this new investment is helpful, it is a drop in the bucket toward adequately funding Washington’s public health system to ensure it can track, respond to and prevent disease outbreaks.

Policy priorities

Surprise billing (medical debt)

Surprise medical billing happens when a patient is treated at a health care facility that is in her health plan’s network, but may unexpectedly receive services or see certain providers that are out of her health plan’s network – resulting in a surprise medical bill for the out-of-network rate. These unexpected charges can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars. This bill would ensure that patients pay in-network rates at in-network facilities, even when being treated by an out-of-network provider in an Emergency Department or surgical facility.

Address the opioid crisis / secure medicine return

In 2018, WSNA will support bills to further prevent, and provide treatment for, opioid addiction in our communities. Additionally, WSNA will continue to support House Bill 1047 which establishes a statewide secure medicine return program (sometimes referred to as drug take-back). These programs are currently being implemented in a number of counties and reduce risks of medicine poisonings, misuse, and overdoses by providing a convenient way for residents to dispose of old or unused medicines.

Access to mental health services (Volk decision)

A year ago, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Volk v. DeMeerleer that changed the standard for “duty to warn” previously established in Washington state and nationally. SB 5800 would return to the standard established before the Volk decision: to require that a mental health professional providing mental health services to a patient has a duty to warn about a patient's violent behavior only if the patient has made an actual threat of physical violence against an identifiable victim – ensuring that mental health professionals do not change their practice, resulting in either a chilling effect on the willingness to treat severely mentally ill patients or an increase in involuntary treatment commitments.