EYE ON OLYMPIA: Bills would up state money to hospitals

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

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OLYMPIA — The North Olympic Peninsula’s legislators are sponsoring twin bills in the State House of Representatives and Senate that would allow hospitals like Olympic Medical Center to receive more Medicaid reimbursement payments from the state.

State Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, is sponsoring SB 5829 in the Senate while State Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, is sponsoring the companion piece of proposed legislation, HB 1916, in the state House.

State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, also a Sequim Democrat, has signed on as one of HB 1916’s five cosponsors.

Hargrove, Tharinger and Van De Wege all represent the 24th Legislative District, which comprise Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

The legislation, if approved, would call out between $7 million and $8 million more per biennium from the state general fund to pay a larger share of Medicaid reimbursements for the state’s four sole community hospitals, Tharinger said in an interview last week.

OMC in Port Angeles is one of these community hospitals, which are between urban hospitals and critical access hospitals in size, Tharinger explained.

Critical access hospitals, which serve more rural areas, include the Forks Community Hospital and Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend.

Tharinger said the point of the proposed legislation is to help keep OMC operating as both one of Clallam County’s biggest employers and the sole source of major medical care for most county residents.

“It’s the major pillar that a lot of care hangs on,” Tharinger said.

However, Tharinger said asking for millions from the state general fund is expected to be a tough sell with myriad other funding requests and requirements, such as a State Supreme Court mandate for the state to fully fund basic education, competing for the same dollars.

“I think we’ll be successful, but it’s challenging with our budget,” Tharinger said.

Hargrove echoed Tharinger’s concerns about asking for state general funds, adding that the 24th District’s legislators still have work to do when it comes to driving home the importance of the Senate and House sole community hospital bills.

“I think we have a pretty good case, but ultimately, we have to convince the majority of the rest of the legislature,” Hargrove said.

As the Senate version progresses, however, Hargrove said he is in a unique position as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee to make the case for the bill, at least among his Democratic counterparts.

“At least, I should have good access to make the argument over why this is a good idea,” Hargrove said.

The 23-member Senate Ways and Means Committee is the Senate’s primary budget-developing body and hears most every bill having to do with revenue expenditures.

In other 24th Legislative District news, a bill Van De Wege is spearheading that would require school districts with high schools to include CPR training in at least one health class necessary for graduation has passed out of the House Education Committee with unanimous support.

“I’m pretty darn excited about it,” said Van De Wege, who works as a firefighter/paramedic with Clallam County Fire District No. 3 in Sequim. “It’ll give me something to champion for the rest of the [legislative] session.”

The next step for the bill, HB 1556, is a public hearing in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education at 1:30 p.m. today.

The bill, which would not make CPR instruction a graduation requirement, also would instruct the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to work with school districts to develop guidelines for medical emergency response and automated external defibrillator programs for high schools, according to the bill report.

Van De Wege said HB 1556 received strong support in a Feb. 15 public hearing in the House Education Committee, including from a number of people whose lives had been saved by CPR and the use of AEDs, which assist whomever is using the device in administrating a controlled electric shock to someone experiencing cardiac arrest.

Concerns over the bill included how districts would be expected to pay for the additional CPR instruction requirements, with Jerry Bender, the director of government relations for the Association of Washington Schools, testifying in support but with the caveat that the state should bear some responsibility for funding the CPR instruction.

“If it becomes a state requirement, then the state has some obligation to fund it,” Bender said.

Testifying at the hearing, Van De Wege said school districts would be able to work with outside organizations, such as fire departments or nonprofits, to provide CPR instruction.

“I have seen lives saved with CPR and AEDs,” Van De Wege said at the Feb. 15 hearing, “and I hope that we can pass this bill so I can see more.”

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 24. 2013 6:07PM
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