2016 Legislative Recap
The 2016 Washington State Legislature adjourned on March 29th after a nineteen-day over time. Competing priorities for the session created loggerheads for the Democratic controlled House of Representatives (House) and the Republican controlled Senate. The House wanted to increase appropriations for teacher salaries and to provide funds to address basic education, expand mental health services, and increase housing assistance. They proposed to pay for these expenditures by increasing revenues by modifying five sections of tax code and utilizing $318 million from the “Rainy Day” (Budget Stabilization Account) fund. The Senate agreed on the need for funding for mental health, but its key focus was on “protecting taxpayers” and requiring that the budget balance over a four year period. They had very little tolerance for utilizing “Rainy Day” funds. The standoff was further complicated when Governor Inslee (D) vetoed 27 bills that had been passed by both chambers over frustrations with the inability for agreement to be reached at the end of the 60-day session. He immediately called the Legislature back into special session. The House and Senate ended up overriding all 27 vetoes with two-thirds votes during special session.
Consensus was achieved by providing modest increases for mental health and teacher salaries which were paid for with balances in specific funds such as the Public Works Assistance Account, but no changes to the tax code were made. The budget was balanced over four years and $190 million from the “Rainy Day” fund was appropriated only to cover the costs of forest fires and other disasters. The Legislature committed to address the court order to fully fund basic education in the 2017 Legislative Session (McCleary v. WA State).
2016 marked a very successful session for LeadingAge Washington priority legislation.
For Nursing Homes:
SHB 2678 modified the laws enacted by the 2015 Legislature to convert Medicaid payments from a cost-based payment system to a price-based payment system according to stakeholder recommendations. This legislation goes a long way toward mitigating harmful rate swings and establishing a payment system that incentivizes quality, staffing, and investments in the physical plant.
ESSB 6203 ensures timely access to critically-necessary medications for residents in nursing homes by authorizing licensed nurses, pharmacists, or physicians practicing in a long-term care facility or hospice program to act as a practitioner’s agent in documenting a chart order on behalf of the prescribing practitioner, and when communicating a prescription to the pharmacy.
The Supplemental Operating Budget included a proviso to exempt the five highest (of the ten lowest) acuity groupings from the nursing home Medicaid payment penalty. This penalty was established to incentivize serving the lowest acute in the community; however, it was actually applied to residents who were very ill, requiring the daily care of a licensed nurse, including those with dementia and behavioral health issues. This relief ensures that residents in these acuity groupings will continue to have access to needed nursing care and protects against unsafe discharges to community and avoids risking the health and safety of residents living in community based settings.
For Assisted Living
The 2016 Supplemental Operating Budget included a proviso that would require the Department of Social and Health Services to provide a comprehensive analysis on expenditures for Medicaid clients served in Adult Family Homes and Assisted Living by acuity level. This is an important step in bringing recognition to the true costs associated with serving Medicaid clients in these service settings and the importance of providing more appropriate rates for Assisted Living Medicaid providers.
For Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)
2SHB 2726 was originally drafted to require the Department of Social and Health Services to develop and implement a certification process to regulate the operations of CCRCs and to provide authority for the department to monitor compliance with a number of independent living resident rights established under the law as well as compliance with required disclosures to prospective residents. LeadingAge Washington presented testimony expressing concerns about the expansion of governmental authority and the intrusion into private matters while questioning the legitimacy of the need for such costly oversight. Further, Deb Murphy, CEO, worked tirelessly with the bill sponsor and supporters to significantly modify the original bill. The final bill establishes a registration process, renewed every two years, eliminates department investigatory and compliance monitoring authority, and requires the disclosure of more reasonable operational information and sets forth more reasonable resident expectations regarding community life. A complaint process is established and investigatory authority has been conferred to the Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office. Action by the AG’s Office will be triggered when there is a pattern of alleged violations of the same or similar conduct.
LeadingAge Washington and its CCRC members worked diligently to secure passage of this legislation so that our community and prospective residents have the information necessary to make informed choices about planning for their care needs, while living an active and healthy lifestyle in a beautiful surrounding. We developed a consistent approach to providing comprehensive information about our organizations. We believe in the ideals reflected in this new law and continually strive to improve the clarity of our communications and achieve transparency in our practices.
For Affordable Senior Housing
2SHB 1605 would exempt affordable housing providers from paying fire benefit charges imposed by local fire authorities. Despite our persistent advocacy, we were unfortunately not successful in passing this bill due to the short time frame and misinformation presented during late testimony. Through the process we were, however, able to forge stronger relationships between affordable housing advocates and fire protection agencies while identifying the specific political challenges. With this foundation laid, we are hopeful we can carry this momentum into the 2017 session and pass legislation exempting affordable housing from paying fire benefit charges.
For information about the final 2016 State Budgets, click here
LeadingAge Washington’s Legislative Team — Questions? Contact Us!
Deborah A. Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, dmurphy@LeadingAgeWa.org
LeighBeth Merrick, Director of Senior Living & Community Service,
Phone: 253- 964-8870 * www.LeadingAgeWA.org