Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington State Nurses Association - Legislative Day
February 10, 2003

Good morning. It’s an honor to address this group today.

Now, I am a lawyer by training. We’ve all heard many jokes about lawyers. And they are not usually very flattering. We’ve all heard many jokes about politicians, too, and they’re also not very flattering!

But I’ve never heard any jokes about nurses, or the nursing profession. There is a good reason for this. It reflects the great respect we have for nurses and what they do.

Nurses are on the front line of health care. You are there through labor and delivery of our babies. There “around-the-clock” in the hospital for our injured and our sick. There through the years and the many visits to the clinic. And there to take care of our elderly.

Having been hospitalized 10 years ago for a broken back, I know firsthand that the one constant in our hospitals and medical clinics and care centers, the person we deal with most and who provides most of the care day-in and day-out, is a nurse.

Nursing must truly be one of the most demanding professions. You must be compassionate, knowledgeable, accurate, empathetic, decisive, flexible, strong, patient, tireless and selfless. There is a reason that the phrase “angel of mercy” has long been a synonym for nurses.

Thank you for all that you do for the rest of us in society.

I am proud of our record in health care since I took office. We’ve been able to strengthen the safety net for low-income and ailing citizens by:

· Reforming individual health insurance policies
· Passing a Patient Bill of Rights
· Expanding the Basic Health Plan
· Creating the Children’s Health Insurance Program
· Improving boarding home quality and safety
· Improving community care for the elderly and persons with disabilities
· Improving public health in such areas as e-coli response, safe drinking water, improved health care services, and better services for veterans; and
· Enhancing services for homeless families with children

We can be proud of our health care record, and proud that we have been able to offer a high level of service to Washington citizens.

But today we face tough economic times. A national recession, one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, and the largest deficit in the history of our state—$2.4 billion.

The results-oriented budget I have proposed is a dramatic response to our deficit. Nearly every state in America faces serious economic challenges – many with deeper deficits as a percentage of their budgets than Washington state.

But we are the first state in the nation to tackle our problems head-on by re-examining how we govern—and fundamentally changing how we govern. Our Priorities of Government approach is becoming a model for other states to follow.

We exhaustively studied all that we do—examining some 1,400 state government activities. Then, like a family on a very tight budget, we sat down and looked at how we’ve typically spent our money. We decided how we need to spend it now to get the results we want.

My budget proposal clearly states what we believe are the priorities of state government: education, jobs, healthy families, safe communities, and protection of vulnerable children and adults. We’ve made tough choices in each of these categories to try to live within our means and help our economy recover.

The soaring costs of medical care have exacerbated our state’s fiscal condition. Health care costs continue to rise at more than five-to-10 times the general inflation rate. Income to our state is not rising at that rate.

In the next two years, our state faces a $550 million increase in the cost of maintaining current Medicaid and Basic Health Plan services for low-income Washington residents.

We can’t handle these skyrocketing costs alone and forever at the state level. We need a comprehensive, national solution to the nation’s health care woes.

We are doing our best to keep the safety net viable. Of course, we’ve all been hearing and reading about various programs and services that are being reduced and eliminated by the budget proposal.

Every one of those cuts is painful. Every one is worthwhile. But we don’t have the money to provide them all.

But as we focus on our top priorities, there is much that we are doing to keep the safety net intact. Even as we press the federal government to step up to its responsibilities, we are stepping up to ours. I’d like to tell you what the budget proposal does provide.

My budget proposal continues to fund all existing health care programs for children. We will still be among the top three to five in the nation in providing health care for our kids.

My health care budget provides medical services for hundreds of thousands of Washington residents who otherwise could not afford to go the doctor.

My plan recognizes the front-line role that our state public health system plays in preventing and controlling outbreaks of disease by maintaining funding for local public health agencies.

The proposal includes public health programs and statewide networks to protect the 6 million people of our state. These programs include communicable disease control, emergency preparedness and response, food and drinking water safety, shellfish programs, the Public Health Laboratory, and maternal and child health.

We’re investing in preventative programs. We’re expanding the newborn screening program to add five disorders to the current blood test and new hearing tests. These programs allow for early identification and intervention of treatable disorders, improving the health of affected children.

We of course provide Medicaid health care to more than 700,000 Washington citizens for whom Medicaid services are required under federal law. These are the most vulnerable citizens of our state—those who require help because of income, age, or disability.

But despite the tough times, we will fund non-mandatory Medicaid health care to more than 200,000 other vulnerable Washington citizens, such as lower-income aged, blind or disabled individuals, women with breast or cervical cancer, and children.

We are continuing insurance coverage for all children and parents currently covered under the state's Basic Health Plan.

And under my proposal, our health care safety net includes expanded grants to nonprofit community clinics for basic medical care for people living below 200 percent of poverty and who have no other coverage such as Medicaid or Basic Health. By increasing the current state grant by $22 million, we’re allowing 42,500 additional people to be served in these settings.

Finally, I am looking forward to working with the Legislature in passing legislation to help with prescription drug costs. There are many ideas on the table. We will work together to find the best way to do what we can to tackle this problem and bring down the costs of prescription drugs, including:

· Creating a Medicaid prescription-only benefit
· Extending the purchasing power of the state
· Creating a preferred drug list
· Creating a prescription drug clearinghouse for seniors

My proposal makes every effort to get the best result for every single dollar we spend.

As I said, these are tough economic times. Health care costs continue to skyrocket. This is a national problem, and requires a national solution. But we are continuing to keep our state safety net strong for our most vulnerable citizens.

I remain confident that working together, the people of this state will get through today’s difficulties and see a brighter tomorrow. As our economy recovers—and it will recover—we will be able to devote more resources to keeping our citizens healthy.

In all the debate over the budget, let’s not lose sight of an important truth. Our state’s resources may have changed, and we may be struggling right now economically, but we remain committed to the health and well being of Washington citizens.

We remain committed to helping and protecting children, families, vulnerable seniors and disabled adults.

We remain committed to patient safety.

And we remain committed to supporting the professionals that are at the very heart of our health care system—our nurses.

Thank you for all that you do—and keep up the good work.

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