Archive for Healthcare

Health department investigating cluster of birth defects in Eastern Washington

By | May 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

The state Department of Health is investigating more than two dozen cases of babies born with a rare birth defect in a three-county area in Eastern Washington.

From 2010 to 2013, there were 23 babies were born with anencephaly in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties — roughly four times the national average. Anencephaly is a neural tube defect in which the baby’s brain and skull do not fully form during the first month of pregnancy. Babies with the defect often die shortly after birth.

Kathy Lofy, state health officer for the Dept. of Health, spoke with Jennifer Huntley of “The Impact” about the ongoing investigation, and whether or not there is a link to the nearby Hanford nuclear site in Benton County. The show airs Wednesday, May 28 at 7 & 10 p.m.

More information about the investigation can be found here. Officials recommend that pregnant women take folic acid daily to prevent birth defects, and also have their water tested for nitrate and bacteria if drinking from a private well.

Update: Watch “The Impact” below:

Categories: Healthcare, TVW

Gov. Inslee signs supplemental budget, vetoes a funding cut for life science fund

By | April 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday signed the supplemental budget passed by the Legislature, but vetoed a section that would have cut funding for the Life Sciences Discovery Fund.

The fund provides research grants for the life sciences industry, and was established under former Gov. Chris Gregoire with money from tobacco settlements. The budget would have phased out $20 million for the fund and ended the program early.

Inslee said cutting off the funding prematurely is “short sighted,” and ignores the contributions the fund has made to the state.

He cited a program that was developed by the University of Washington and the Foundation for Health Care Quality using a $1.3 million dollar grant from the fund. That program cut healthcare costs by tens of millions of dollars by reducing the number of unnecessary surgeries and surgical complications, Inslee said.

Republican Sen. John Braun criticized the governor’s veto, saying it creates a bigger budget problem for next year by “punching a $20 million dollar hole.” He said the decision to cut funding was a difficult one for legislators on both sides the aisle, but was ultimately supported by 90 percent of lawmakers.

“To do a surprise veto at the end is disappointing,” Braun said.

The supplemental budget signed by the governor spends about $155 million dollars, including an additional $58 million for schools and $20 million for mental health services.

Inslee described it as a “modest” budget, and said he was frustrated it didn’t put more money into education by closing tax loopholes as he proposed. Next year, the state will need more than $1.5 billion dollars to fund the next step of McCleary obligations to pay for basic education, he said.

Braun said closing tax loopholes is a “tired” proposal, and Republicans believe the number needed for McCleary is closer to $750 million and can be achieved by prioritizing spending.

Inslee also vetoed several other sections of the supplemental budget. Read the full veto list here.

TVW taped the bill signing ceremony — watch it online here.

Categories: Budget, Healthcare

Last minute push to enroll people in health insurance plans before March 31 deadline

By | March 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

With the March 31 deadline approaching for people to sign up for private health insurance plans through Washington Healthplanfinder, officials are making a last-minute push to encourage people to sign up for coverage.

The deadline does not apply to Medicaid, which accepts applicants year-round.

Figures released Tuesday by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange show 12,000 people signed up in the past week, an increase of four times the weekly average. A total of 895,000 people have completed enrollments through the exchange, including those who were previously covered or eligible through Medicaid.

About 250,000 newly eligible adults have signed up for Medicaid, while 125,000 people have enrolled in private commercial health insurance plans, known as Qualified Health Plans.

“Medicaid numbers are great,” said Richard Onizuka, CEO of the exchange, in an interview with TVW Wednesday. “The private health insurance – the qualified health plans – are really robust. We didn’t know what to expect, but to have 125,000 as of Monday is a pretty good number for us.”

Critics say that the Medicaid expansion will be a burden on state and federal taxpayers. Roger Stark of the Washington Policy Center said Wednesday that’s the “thing that gets lost in all of this discussion.”

“If we look at the numbers, only 14 percent of the people who have signed up and paid for premiums are actually in the private market,” Stark said. “That means 86 percent have signed up for the Medicaid program, an entitlement program completely funded by taxpayers.”

For more details about the last-minute push and who is signing up, as well as interviews with Onizuka and Stark, watch “The Impact” on Wednesday, March 26 at 7 & 10 p.m.

People seeking private health insurance must enroll and pay before 11:59 p.m. on March 31 for coverage that starts on May 1, 2014. To sign up, go to www.wahealthplanfinder.org or attend an enrollment event.

Categories: Healthcare

Legislative Year in Review

By | March 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

On this special one-hour edition of “Legislative Year in Review,” we recap the highlights from the 2014 session — from opening day to Sine Die. The show includes debate over issues such as the Dream Act, minimum wage, gun control, abortion insurance bill, death penalty, mental health, teacher evaluations, taxing e-cigarettes and the supplemental budget. Plus, a quick wrap-up of several of the bills that passed this year. Watch the show below:

2014 Roundup: What bills passed, what didn’t pass during session

By | March 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Washington State Legislature adjourned shortly before midnight on Thursday, the final day of the regular 2014 session. It’s the first time since 2009 that lawmakers finished their work without going into an overtime special session.

Here’s an overview of what lawmakers accomplished — and didn’t accomplish — during the session.

PASSED:

Supplemental budget: Both chambers agreed on a supplemental operating budget that spends about $155 million, including $58 for K-12 books and supplies. It also adds additional money to the mental health system, early learning and prisons. It does not include any new taxes or tax breaks, nor does it include teacher pay raises.

Dream Act/Real Hope Act: The Dream Act allows undocumented immigrants to apply for state need grants to help pay for college. The House passed its version of the Dream Act on opening day. The Senate renamed it the Real Hope Act and added $5 million to the state need grant. It was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in February.

Homeless fees: As part of a last-minute deal, lawmakers agreed to extend until 2019 a $40 document recording fee that people pay during real estate transaction, such as buying or refinancing a house. The fee supports homeless shelters, affordable housing and other services and was scheduled to sunset unless the Legislature took action.

24 credit diploma: Starting with the class of 2019, high school students will have to earn 24 credits for a diploma. The current minimum is 20 credits, although some school districts require more than the minimum. The bill will also provide more opportunities for students to take career and technical classes that meet graduation requirements.

Tanning beds ban: Teenagers under the age of 18 would no longer be allowed to use tanning beds in Washington. Senate Bill 6065 bans minors from using tanning beds, unless they have a written prescription for UV radiation treatment from a doctor. Tanning salons would be fined $250 for violations.

Domestic violence: Washington residents under domestic violence restraining orders will soon be barred from owning guns. The bill says that someone who is under a protection, no-contact, or restraining order related to domestic violence must surrender his or her guns to law enforcement.

Drones: The Legislature approved a bill that puts limits government agencies that use drones, or remote-controlled monitoring devices, for surveillance. An agency may only use a drone after getting a warrant or under several exceptions, such as a fire or other emergency.

Religious holidays: State employees will be allowed to take two unpaid days off a year for religious reasons, and public school children will be excused for two days under a bill approved by the Legislature.

Military in-state tuition: Veterans and active duty military members will soon qualify for in-state tuition at Washington colleges and universities without having to first establish residency. Senate Bill 5318 waives the one-year waiting period for veterans, military members and their families.

Short-barreled rifles: Washington gun owners will soon be allowed to own a short-barreled rifle under a bill approved by the Legislature. It is currently a felony to own a gun with a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches, or to have a modified gun that is shorter than 26 inches overall. (more…)

Democratic senators hold ‘briefing’ on abortion insurance bill

By | March 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

Advocates for more abortion insurance coverage gathered at the capitol Monday.

A group of Democratic state senators urged their fellow lawmakers to reconsider an abortion insurance bill during a one-sided “briefing” Monday.

The bill passed in the House last year, but stalled in the Senate. History repeated itself this session. The bill, which supporters call the Reproductive Parity Act, would require health insurers to cover abortions if they also pay for maternity care.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, legislators and advocates testified at Monday’s hour-long briefing about the importance of expanding abortion coverage, particularly for low-income women.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, is the sponsor of the stalled Senate bill. He said that he is concerned that the state’s new health insurance exchange will deny certain women the procedure and many will not be able to afford additional coverage.

“Women will have fewer choices in the end,” said Hobbs.

Elaine Rose with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest said, “People’s health care decisions are determined by how much money the have.”

An abortion costs about $600 in the first trimester and typically gets more expensive the longer a woman waits, according to Tiffany Hankins with the Community Abortion Information and Resource Project. Hankins added that abortion is a “ticking clock” because the procedure gets more expensive the longer you wait.

Bill supporter Christine Kocsis called herself “living proof” that abortion is often about money. Seven years ago, Kocsis got pregnant by an abusive partner and wanted an abortion, but delayed her procedure because she couldn’t afford it.

Although she was uninsured at the time, she said she “cannot imagine” if she had been paying for insurance and found it would only cover her if she carried the pregnancy to term. That’s the scenario advocates are trying to prevent.

Opponents said the bill discriminates against those who don’t believe in abortions. During a previous House Health Care and Wellness Committee hearing, bill critic, Angela Connely, said the act would bully people into covering the procedure.

On Monday, Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, the chair of the Senate Health Care Committee, called the bill “the abortion insurance mandate bill.” She said abortion coverage is readily available and if it becomes a problem then the issue can be readdressed.

Becker said, “What really worries me is if every carrier is forced to cover abortions what choice is left for folks who don’t want to? We have to respect those people.”

On ‘Legislative Review:’ Taxing e-cigarettes, involuntary commitment and House floor action

By | March 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

On Monday’s edition of “Legislative Review,” we have a story about a proposed 95 percent tax on e-cigarettes. The proposal drew strong opposition from more than a dozen vapor shop owners and former smokers, who say that e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to smoking.

Plus, lawmakers hear testimony from the parents of Joel Reuter, who was killed in a shootout with Seattle police. They are seeking changes to the state’s involuntary commitment law. The third segment of the show wraps up a couple of bills passed off the House floor on Monday.

Watch it below:

Categories: Budget, Healthcare

Former smokers oppose a 95 percent tax increase on e-cigarettes

By | March 3, 2014 | 0 Comments

E-cigarettes look, taste and feel like real cigarettes. But, they have a few major differences: They are tobacco-free, battery operated and contain a flavored liquid mix.

During a House Finance Committee on Friday lawmakers considered a bill that would put a 95 percent tax on the tobacco substitutes, also known as vapor products.  This would make them taxed the same as regular tobacco products.

Dozens of former smokers and vapor store owners testified against the bill and said they fear a tax increase would put vapor business out of work and discourage smokers who are trying to kick the habit.

Zach Mclean, a previous smoker for 25 years and vapor store owner, said that e-cigarettes saved his life.

“I got my smell back, my taste back and in a month I was tackling stairs again,” said Mclean.

Other opponents to the legislation explained that after switching to the fake cigarettes they could run marathons, play football with their children again and enjoy fuller lives. Kim Johnson, a vapor store owner, said the reason e-cigarettes are more effective than the patch, gum and other tobacco substitutes is because it satisfies the “hand to mouth” habit.

However, Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, challenged the idea that e-cigarettes are good for you. While the products are healthier compared to real cigarettes, he said nicotine is still addictive.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, also expressed concern that adults trying to quit smoking are not the only ones using the products. E-cigarettes doubled in popularity among teenagers between 2011 and 2012 and one in five middle schoolers said they have tried the tobacco substitutes, according to the Center Disease Control and Prevention.

Susan Tracy of the Washington State Medical Association, the only one to testify in support of the bill, said that more research needs to be conducted on the products and there is “no scientific data” to back up the claims that e-cigarettes are safe. The F.D.A has yet to approve e-cigarettes.

The committee took no action on the bill Friday. It is scheduled for a committee vote at 8 a.m. Tuesday. TVW will air the hearing live on television and webcast it here.

On ‘Legislative Review:’ Supplemental budget, school construction bonds and healthcare costs

By | February 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

On Thursday’s edition of “Legislative Review,” we have highlights from the Senate floor debate over the supplemental budget, which passed with a vote of 41 to 8 . Plus, details about a plan to pay for school construction with bonds back by lottery money.

And a plan to create a statewide health care cost database is struck from a bill in committee. Watch the show below:

Categories: Budget, Education, Healthcare

Senate committee strikes medical cost database from bill

By | February 27, 2014 | 0 Comments

Correction issued March 3: The amended bill passed out of committee with a voted of 5-3. A previous version of this story said it passed out of committee unanimously.

Original story:

A statewide health care claims database could help cut medical costs, people testified Thursday. But the idea was struck from a bill considered by the Senate Health Care Committee.

Several states, including Colorado, have all-payer claims databases that allows comparisons of health care costs throughout the state. 

A plan to start a database in Washington was part of House Bill 2572, sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) and requested by Gov. Jay Inslee, but committee chair Sen. Randi Becker (R-Enumclaw) removed the idea from the bill with an amendment, saying she expected lawmakers to revisit the topic.

“We’ve taken some things out, and this just keeps the discussion going,” she said. “I  fully expect we’ll continue to work on this.

Cody said Washington has been criticized by national groups for how much information is available on health care costs.

“The state got an F from the Catalyst for Payment Reform on our transparency issues,” she said.

Before the committee voted on the amendment, several people testified to the importance of the database.

Yanling Yu of the Washington Advocates for patient safety says the database would help patients manage costs.

“Right now it’s very difficult for consumers to do that. There’s no single source of data where we can get all the information in one place where we can compare the quality and price,” she said.

Rex Johnson of Seattle agreed.

“There’s no question that we the people need this information to make intelligent decisions on our health care,” he said. “This is the type of transparency that we need.”

Patrick Connor of the National Federation of Independent Business says the group supported the original bill and was against Becker’s amendment.

“Each time we come forward asking for more transparency, more access to information, the concerns of the health insurance carriers about not wanting to participate seem to trump those of the consumers who desperately need good information to make informed decisions and help control their health care costs,” he said.

He says other states have no had problems with their databases.

“Not one of these Chicken Little complaints about price setting, price fixing, about the claims data somehow jeopardizing individuals ability to be protected in their privacy have come to pass,” he said.

Becker’s amendment passed. The amended version of the bill passed with a vote of 5-3 (view roll call votes here).

The bill creates regional health care collaboration groups and would allow the Department of Health to develop training, technical assistance and other tools for health care providers.

You can watch the hearing in TVW’s archives.

Categories: Healthcare

House passes involuntary mental health treatment bill

By | February 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

Doug and Nancy Reuter, whose son Joel died in a shootout with Seattle police, were on hand Friday to see the House of Representatives pass a bill that would allow the families of those with mental illness seek help for their loved ones through the courts.

HB 2725 would allow immediate families to ask the courts to commit or treat a person with mental illness involuntarily.

Joel Reuter

The family and friends of Joel Reuter, who had bipolar disorder, tried to get him help when his behavior became erratic, but were told repeatedly by authorities that his behavior never rose to the level of involuntary commitment.

“Joel needed to be involuntarily committed because he didn’t know that he was slipping into psychosis. But his family members knew. His parents knew, his friends knew,” said Rep. Jay Rodne (R-North Bend), on the House floor.

“We can not not afford to put this bill into law because it will save lives and early intervention will spare the tragedy that Joel and his family underwent,” Rodne said.

“This bill gives families one more option, one that I believe they need,” said bill sponsor Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle). “I am hoping this will give families one more option and prevent tragedies.”

Under the current involuntary treatment law, a designated mental health professional must sign off to commit someone involuntarily. The patient must be at grave risk to oneself or others, either through threatening to harm someone or oneself, or through becoming unable to take care of one’s basic needs.

House bill 2725 would allow immediate family members to petition the courts if the patient is denied involuntary commitment by the mental health professional. The courts can review denials and could  reverse the decision, taking the family’s testimony into account.

Friends and family of people with mental illnesses testified to being unable to help with their loved ones’ erratic and dangerous behaviors.

However, a House committee also received testimony against the bill earlier this month, that the bill would burden the already overcrowded system and wouldn’t help with capacity issues.

Lawmaker wants to ‘free Washingtonians’ to buy health insurance in other states

By | February 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

A Republican lawmaker is proposing a bill that would allow Washington residents to go outside of the state’s health exchange to buy high-deductible, low premium “catastrophic” health insurance plans.

“Those plans are no longer available in the way they were in Washington before Obamacare went into effect,” said Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place.

Sen. Steve O'Ban at a press conference Tuesday

O’Ban is proposing a bill that he said would “free Washingtonians to go across state lines” to purchase coverage in states where catastrophic health plans are widely available, including Arizona, Oregon and Idaho.

The measure also allows insurance companies to offer health plans in Washington that are exempt from state and federal requirements.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing and vote this week in the Senate Health Care committee. Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, is sponsoring a companion bill in the House, but he said it has not been allowed a hearing.

“Politics aside, we have real people who are suffering real pain,” Manweller said at a press conference Tuesday.

Heidi Erickson of Federal Way is an insurance broker, and said she used to pay $321 a month for a catastrophic health insurance plan that was cancelled once the Affordable Care Act went into effect. A similar plan now costs $487 a month, she said, and requires $12,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses.

“To me, that is not a catastrophic plan. That is simply not insurance,” Erickson said. “So I’ve opted to just not have insurance until there’s another option.”

Categories: Healthcare

On ‘Legislative Review:’ Gay conversion therapy, toxic toys and oil spill laws

By | January 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

On Wednesday’s edition of “Legislative Review,” we cover two bills considered in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. One bill aims to end the practice of gay conversion therapy on minors, and the other would increase suicide prevention training for medical professionals.

We also have highlights from the floor debate about a bill that would ban certain flame retardants from being used in furniture and children’s products. Plus, a debate over a bill that would tighten the state’s oil spill laws.

Watch the show below:

Abortion coverage bill foes, supporters testify

By | January 13, 2014 | 0 Comments

Insurance coverage for abortions is back before legislators as the House Health Care Committee took testimony from about a dozen people either in favor or against HB 2148.

The bill, which supporters call the Reproductive Parity Act, is intended to maintain current insurance coverage for women seeking to terminate pregnancies. The bill is back before legislators for the third year in a row.

The bill is intended to maintain current insurance coverage for women seeking to terminate pregnancies, but opponents say that the bill doesn’t do enough to allow companies to opt out of abortion coverage. Abortion coverage is not required by the federal Affordable Care Act.

Annie Iriye, an OB/Gyn with Group Health, said there are many unique situations where a woman might choose to end a pregnancy due to her health and circumstances, and those medical decisions could be stymied if her insurance won’t cover it.

“A woman needs to have this option available based on her specific circumstances, not based on her insurance coverage,” Iriye said.

But, Carrie Anderson, a small business owner who purchases insurance for her employees, said because of moral and religious reasons, she does not want pay to support abortions through her insurance premiums, but has found that the options for small businesses are limited.

“Please vote against this bill and help us to fight against this movement in the insurance industry, to force individuals and employers to buy and pay for something that violates their consciences,” she said.

You can watch the full testimony from the House Health Care and Wellness Committee on TVW.org.

Categories: Healthcare

UPDATED: On TVW this week: Election results, GET program update, health care forum

By | November 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

UPDATED to include special session hearings. Here’s what we’re covering this week on TVW:

Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 10 a.m.: The Legislative Advisory Committee on Advanced Tuition Payment will get an update on the state’s prepaid tuition program. Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program allows parents to buy tuition units at a set price, then redeem them in the future at one of the state’s public universities. TVW will live webcast the hearing at this link.

Wednesday, Nov. 6 from 7:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.: TVW will live webcast an all-day health care forum sponsored by the Association of Washington Business. Speakers include Richard Onizuka, CEO of the State Health Benefit Exchange Board, as well as several business and insurance representatives. The full agenda is available here. Webcast links to each segment of the program are available on TVW’s schedule page.

Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 10 a.m.: The House Environment Committee is holding a work session on electronic waste recycling, mercury lights  and “life cycle” communities. TVW will webcast it at this link.

Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 7 & 10 p.m.: TVW will have the latest election results on  “The Impact,” as well as reaction from the campaigns for I-522, I-517 and the 26th District Senate race between Jan Angel and Nathan Schlicher. Plus, meet students participating in the state’s mock election process and how it’s getting them involved in politics

Special session begins at 9 a.m. Thursday. On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he was calling legislators back to Olympia to pass a package of bills that will guarantee Boeing builds its newest plane, the 777X, in Washington state.

Thursday, Nov. 7 at 1:30 p.m.: The House Finance Committee is holding a public hearing on a proposal to extend tax incentives to Boeing and the aerospace industry. TVW will air it live on television, as well as webcast it at this link.

Thursday, Nov. 8 at 2:30 p.m.: The state Economic & Revenue Forecast Council will hear an economic review by chief economist Steve Lerch. The council will also approve the state’s budget outlook. TVW will live webcast the meeting at this link.

Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 & 10 p.m.: Boeing has pledged to build the new 777X airplane in Washington state if lawmakers approve a series of bills. On this week’s “Inside Olympia,” host Austin Jenkins talks with 777X Task Force members Sen. Rodney Tom and Rep. Larry Springer, and the governor’s aerospace director Alex Pietsch.

Friday, Nov. 8 at 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.: TVW will live webcast the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting. The agenda includes a public discussion and decision on the state’s purchase of  589 acres in Yakima County and 5,497 acres in Kittitas County. Webcast links to each segment of the hearing are available on TVW’s schedule page.

On TVW this week: Discussion about Washington’s tax structure, mental health and prison populations

By | October 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

Here’s a look at what will be airing on TVW this week. We’ll update this post when new events are added.

Monday at 1:30 p.m.: TVW will be live on television and the web with the House Finance Committee. They’re holding a work session to compare Washington’s tax structure to other states. Washington state relies heavily on sales and excise taxes, and it does not have an income tax. Watch the webcast at this link.

Tuesday at 9 a.m.: TVW will air the oral arguments for three Supreme Court cases at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.: TVW will live webcast the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which is scheduled to discuss the “medical necessity defense” for people who use medical marijuana. Watch the webcast here.

Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.: TVW will live webcast the Washington State Board of Health meeting from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Watch the live webcast here.

Wednesday at 1 p.m.: TVW willl live webcast a public hearing on a proposed coal export terminal at the former Reynolds Aluminum smelter near Longview. Watch the live webcast here.

Wednesday at 7 & 10 p.m.: On The Impact this week, host Anita Kissee looks at the renewed push to ensure children are provided legal representation in certain family court cases. Plus, an update on wolf recovery in Washington and changes to rules that allow people to kill wolves during attacks.

Thursday at 9:30 a.m.: TVW will be live on television and the web with the House Appropriations Committee. They’re holding a work session to get an update on mental health programs. They’ll also discuss prison population statistics and “lean management” savings. Watch the webcast at this link.

Thursday at 7 & 10 p.m.: Inside Olympia host Austin Jenkins interviews state Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn and Charter School Commission Chair Steve Sundquist.

Friday at 9 p.m.: TVW’s documentary on GMO labels will air at 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “Washington’s Food Fight” examines the debate over Initiative 522, which would require labels on genetically engineered food sold in Washington state. The documentary is also available online here.

Categories: GMO, Healthcare, Marijuana, tax, TVW

Glitches on first day of enrollment in state’s health insurance exchange

By | October 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

Open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, officially launched in Washington state on Tuesday, despite technical problems that forced the state’s website offline for several hours.

State officials compared the website issues to a product launch, and said they were confident people will still sign up for health insurance during the next six months of the open enrollment period.

“This is not news to us in Washington state, the home to Microsoft and Amazon,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “We’re launching today and we understand there might be glitches on the way.”

Wahealthplanfinder.org launched early Tuesday morning, and had to be shut down for maintenance by 8:30 a.m. because people were having inconsistent experiences, officials said. Some people were able to use the website normally, while others were experiencing slowdowns. It was up again by the afternoon.

The problems were not related to the federal government shutdown or because of high traffic, said Michael Marchand, a spokesman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

“Success won’t be determined by first six minutes or six hours,” Marchand said. “It will be defined by the first six months of open enrollment and years beyond that.”

The call center remained open throughout the day, and fielded more than 2,000 calls before 10 a.m., Marchand said.

Technical problems didn’t deter Heather New, 33, from enrolling in a health care plan. She filled out a paper application Tuesday at a clinic in Seattle, and discovered she will be eligible for free Medicaid.

New has been laid off three times in the last five years and is currently a student. In the past, she said she’s skipped medications to pay for rent. “Now I can see a doctor when I need to,” said New.

Washington state is embarking on a widespread campaign to encourage people to sign up for health insurance.

Inslee issued an executive order on Tuesday to direct state agencies to find ways to spread the word, such as mailing information about healthcare along with the 6,000 vehicle registration reminders that are sent out each month.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said 500 assistants have been trained to help people enroll in health insurance plans, and 200 events are planned throughout the county at libraries and community centers.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Constantine said.

The state is also launching a 10-city bus tour on Oct. 16 to sign up people who live in rural areas. An estimated 1 million Washingtonians don’t have health insurance.

UPDATE: Officials announced that the health exchange website will be offline starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday through early Wednesday morning for maintenance.

Watch Tuesday’s press conference below:

Washington health insurance exchange set to launch Tuesday morning

By | September 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

Washington state’s new health insurance exchange will be available on Tuesday morning, even if the federal government shuts down at midnight on the eve of the launch of the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Jay Inslee said that despite the political “shenanigans,” Washington state is moving forward with its health insurance exchange at wahealthplanfinder.org.

“We will be open for business,” Inslee said at a press conference Monday.

Washington residents can enroll in health insurance plans through the website starting around 8 a.m. Tuesday, and officials say they will have access to a full range of options. Enrollment continues through March 2014.

People can also sign up for insurance by telephone at 1-855-923-4633. The state will launch a multi-city bus tour on Oct. 16 to help rural residents sign up for health care, according to Richard Onizuka, the CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Sen. Karen Keiser said the opening of the exchange is a “landmark moment in history.”

Keiser said she’s concerned the political fighting in Washington D.C. will cause confusion among people who want to sign up for health insurance.

An estimated 1 million Washingtonians don’t have health insurance. State officials hope to sign up about 130,000 people in 2014.

Categories: Healthcare

Senate vote could mean end of paid family leave law

By | April 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

If lawmakers can’t find a way to pay for it, a program giving parents five weeks paid time off to be with a new child will be eliminated under a measure passed Monday in the Senate.

Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act was adopted in 2007 and gives new parents paid leave of up to $250 a week for five weeks. The program was slated to start in 2009, but a lack of funding has delayed the implementation date twice.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), said the program was a good idea, but without funding it’s an “empty promise.”

The measure was amended to include the creation of a task force to find a funding solution for the program. If a source isn’t found, parents would still be eligible for five weeks of unpaid leave. The author of the amendment, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), said he plans to introduce a bill that will provide funding.

Under federal law, businesses with 50 or more employees are required to give workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical leave or to take care of a new child.

The measure passed on a 27 to 21 vote. It now head to the Democratic-controlled House.

Categories: Healthcare

Cutoff day highlights on ‘Legislative Review’

By | April 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

On Wednesday’s edition of “Legislative Review,” we have highlights from a busy cutoff day — including a floor speech from House Republican Minority Leader Richard DeBolt in which he resigned his leadership post for health reasons, and heated debate on the Senate floor when Democrats attempted to revive an abortion insurance bill. Plus, floor debate over a flame retardant bill and a social networking measure.