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Gov. Gregoire takes immediate steps to implement healthcare reform in Washington state

For Immediate Release: April 1, 2010

SEATTLE – Gov. Chris Gregoire today unveiled a proposal to get Washington state ready to implement health care reform as components of the law begin to take effect.

“Health care reform will benefit millions here in Washington, provide health care for those who couldn’t afford it before, help small business owners save money on employee coverage and improve the health of all our residents,” said Gregoire. “Washington is going to lead the nation in implementing health care reform, we’re going to help more people get coverage, make sure our health care industry is ready and save taxpayer dollars.”

Gregoire signed an executive order creating a Health Care Cabinet to implement health care reform in Washington to maximize efficiencies and bring the full benefits of the new law to all Washington citizens. The Health Care Cabinet will identify all opportunities for Washington state to receive federal funds from the new law. It will write and implement the policies and rules necessary to carry out health care reform statewide for all affected state agencies, including consolidating duties, functions and powers related to the state’s overall health care purchasing.

As the new cabinet does this work, it will engage stakeholders and seek public input to leverage existing local expertise and knowledge to ensure the reform works as intended. By August 1, 2010, the Health Care Cabinet will report back to the governor with recommendations for any changes to state law necessary to be submitted in the 2011 legislative session.

“I applaud the Governor for taking immediate action to get Washington ready for health care reform,” said Mary McWilliams, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Health Alliance. “The plan announced today takes advantage of the many opportunities we have to improve the quality, security and affordability of care in Washington.”

Gregoire’s executive order also directs the Health Care Cabinet to integrate existing prevention/wellness strategies into all reform efforts. The law increases federal investment in public health programs for prevention, wellness and improving the monitoring and tracking of disease outbreaks.

“Health care reform means more than just insurance coverage,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County. “It's about helping people stay well in the first place -- through preventive care like immunizations and mammograms and public health work to make healthier choices easier, like giving kids more safe places to walk and bike. These are straightforward strategies that will improve everyone’s quality of life and reduce their overall health care expenses."

With the implementation of the new law, demands for services from the health care industry will increase and the new Health Care Cabinet will move forward on work to attract and retain the public health professionals needed to administer this care.

“The backbone of successful reform is having enough nurses and healthcare staff to meet the growing need that expanded access will bring under this new legislation,” said Diane Sosne, RN, President of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. “Investing more in training programs, supplying more scholarships for healthcare workers, and improving the diversity of the workforce will create jobs in our local economy and ensure we have the educated workforce to provide quality care.”

To jumpstart the work of the Health Care Cabinet to maximize efficiencies in state government, Gregoire today appointed current Medicaid director and Assistant Secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services’ Health and Recovery Services Administration Doug Porter as the new administrator of the Health Care Authority. In this role, Porter will assume primary responsibility for building and operating a unified purchasing system for publicly funded health services for Washington state. Combining the purchasing power of Medicaid and HCA will yield greater control over costs and streamline the state’s ability to implement health care reform.

Current HCA director Steve Hill will remain the Director of Retirement Systems and will chair the Puget Sound Health Alliance to help implement health care reform with affected stakeholders. Both Porter and Hill will serve on the Health Care Cabinet along with the Secretary of the Department of Health, the Secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, the Director of the Office of Executive Policy and the Director of the Office of Financial Management. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler will also be invited to participate.

“Doug Porter is recognized nationally as a leading expert in healthcare and in providing efficient and effective Medicaid services. Doug will be an excellent Director of the Health Care Authority,” Gregoire said. “Steve Hill will continue to be one of the people I rely on most to lead our effort in reforming health care. We are building an excellent team that will help make Washington the best example of how well health care reform can be done.”

In addition to the Health Care Cabinet, the state is accelerating conversations with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for approval of a waiver to receive federal funds to support Washington state’s Basic Health Plan. This was a component of the new law fought for by the Washington congressional delegation, spearheaded by Senator Maria Cantwell.

“Enactment of this historic health care reform bill comes at a critical time for Washington state,” Senator Cantwell said. “The law provides bridge funding for the Basic Health plan, ensuring thousands of Washingtonians will be able to keep their healthcare and relieve our state’s overstretched budget.”