Children’s Alliance health policy director Charles Adkins reflects on the health care achievements, and unfinished business, of the 2022 legislative session.
What were the major achievements in health care?
Policy-wise, the legislature established birth doulas as a new licensed health profession in Washington state, helping grant Medicaid reimbursement for delivery of babies with the assistance of doulas and addressing racial and income inequality for birthing persons. They also increased access to health care for unaccompanied homeless youth, allowing some of the most vulnerable young people to get life-saving vaccinations and other routine and preventative health care. Third, the legislature passed House Bill 1878, ensuring that more school districts have the financial support to feed hungry students.
While policy victories were not as widespread and far-reaching as we had hoped coming into the legislative session, lawmakers made significant investments in kids’ health. The legislature committed the state to provide continuous Apple Health for Kids coverage for all income-qualified kids under age 6. This is a critical step towards achieving universal coverage for kids in Washington state. Lawmakers committed to raising Medicaid pediatric dental rates, which is a huge step forward for dental access, and raised rates for Access to Baby & Child Dentistry providers by almost 40 percent. These investments show that the legislature takes dental access seriously; they will help pave the way for the legislature taking up water fluoridation and expansion of the dental care team in the future.
What were the missed opportunities?
Legislators did not act on community water fluoridation and dental therapy, data-proven solutions to helping mitigate racial inequity in children’s health. It is unfortunate that the Legislature did not take action on either this year.
Why do these matter to kids and families in communities of color?
With almost a quarter of kids of color in Washington state experiencing untreated tooth decay, it’s imperative for policymakers to take action on kids’ oral health. HB 1684 would have provided additional money and resources for communities to fluoridate their water systems. In addition this bill would have placed barriers on municipalities from suddenly ending the fluoridation of their water supply. This bill in particular is important for the massively positive oral health effects on kids as a result of fluoridated water being present in a given area’s water supply.
Dental therapy is a workforce solution to easing the gaps in dental access in Washington state, not just by providing culturally competent, accessible care to communities that need it. Dental therapists are able to provide an additional opportunity for marginalized communities to get into the oral health care workforce and provide much-needed care to communities that don’t often have access to oral health.