In addition to our top legislative priorities each year, we advocate for many other legislative efforts related to child and family health, equity, and well-being. We provide support and lend a pediatric perspective to partner organizations who lead on these efforts.
Our Early Childhood Committee works in tandem with our Legislative Committee to advance policies that focus on children’s first 5 years of life.
Children, adolescents, and families throughout Washington state have struggled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are facing economic difficulties, family stressors, falling behind in school, missing out on important health and developmental opportunities, and experiencing worsening behavioral health. We must prioritize children in the 2022 legislative session.
SUPPORT STRONG STARTS & BEHAVIORAL HEALTH FOR ALL FAMILIES
The first months and years of a child’s life set a pathway for their health and well-being later in life, during adolescence and into adulthood. Strong families – economically and emotionally – are the foundation babies, toddlers, and preschoolers need for a future lifetime of health.Strong families help children be kindergarten-ready and can even prevent deep academic inequities that plague students today. The pediatric medical home serves nearly every child under age 5 but is not yet built to identify and support families’ Social Determinants of Health.
We can advance child health equity by including non-licensed team members — like community health workers, navigators, and care coordinators — as a sustainable and funded part of health care for children on Apple Health. In addition to supporting families of the youngest children, non-licensed clinic team members can also play a critical role in helping families navigate our complex behavioral health system to ensure kids of all ages don’t fall through the gaps.
- Fund non-licensed team members – health navigators or community health workers – to help families and providers address social determinants of health and ensure children and youth receive the most timely and appropriate care.
- Ensure HCA submits state plan amendment to CMS to draw down federal matching funds for these services.
- Provide adequate per-member-per-month payment for children on Apple Health, beginning in January 2023, to receive real-time support from community health workers or health navigators for their families’ financial and emotional needs.
SUPPORT BEHAVIORAL HEALTH INTEGRATION IN PRIMARY CARE
Washington state is in the midst of a severe crisis in kids’ behavioral health. Before the pandemic, our state was already ranked 43rd in the nation for kids’ access to behavioral health care and COVID-19 has exacerbated this crisis. In September 2020, over half of teens reported frequent or even daily thoughts of suicide or self‐harm. A 2019 state-level study found that nearly half of children with a treatable mental health condition did not receive the care they needed. BIPOC children and youth have even greater untreated mental health needs.
Integrated behavioral health – when primary care providers and licensed behavioral health counselors share care — is an effective and efficient way to ensure kids in need get timely help before symptoms worsen and to combat health inequities.
- Provide startup funds for primary care clinics to implement the collaborative care model to address kids’ behavioral health needs.
END THE YOUTH VAPING EPIDEMIC
21.2% of high school students in Washington state use e-cigarettes (vape), an epidemic that is setting them up for future smoking-related health problems. Young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to become cigarette smokers, and many are low-risk youth who would not otherwise smoke cigarettes. Kids aren’t just experimenting with e-cigarettes. Many are using these products most days or every day, which suggests addiction. Flavored products are driving this epidemic: 82.9% of youth e-cigarette users use flavored products like mint, gummy bear and cotton candy. Use of nicotine in any form is unsafe – especially for kids, because it is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development. Using nicotine during the teen years can also increase risk of future addiction to other drugs.
- Policy improvements to curb the youth vaping epidemic include:
- Increasing the pennies on the dollar tax on vape products to be commensurate to cigarette tax
- Authorize the State Board of Health to ban flavors – a direct lure to draw children and youth to vaping
Bring pediatric Medicaid reimbursement to parity with Medicare rates
It has never been more clear that access to health care is crucial for children’s health and development. In Washington 1 in every 2 children relies on Medicaid for health coverage, but the low rates paid by Medicaid for pediatric care make it increasingly difficult for families to access care in many Washington communities. Bring pediatric Medicaid rates to parity with Medicare to improve access to care for Washington children and achieve better disease prevention, earlier diagnosis and treatment, and fewer emergency room visits.
Improve access to appropriate behavioral health care for children
Behavioral health disorders affect up to 1 in 5 children in a given year, yet 80 percent of those children affected go without treatment. This is a growing problem for children and teens, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Early diagnosis and evidence-based treatment is critical to help ensure healthy development and prevent problems at home, at school and with peers throughout childhood and into adulthood. Increase Medicaid rates for behavioral health in primary care and for behavioral health professionals to improve access to care; fund Washington’s Mental Health Referral Service for Children and Teens.
Ensure a healthy start for parents & babies: extend post-partum coverage
In Washington, Medicaid pays for pregnancy, delivery and 60 days post-partum care for pregnant individuals up to 198% of the federal poverty rate. An estimated 10,000 people lose their Medicaid coverage just 60 days after giving birth because they no longer qualify for coverage under current law. This leaves new moms at risk when they need access to care to recover from complications, receive timely identification and support for behavioral health problems, and form strong bonds with babies.
End the dangerous vaping epidemic
Teen vaping is an epidemic, with nearly 6 million users ages 11-21, and the numbers of teens vaping is increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We can reduce harm by increasing the tax on vaping liquids commensurate with the tax on cigarettes; banning all flavorings in e-cigarettes/vape products, including menthol; and re-apportioning tax revenue from e-cigarette sales to include prevention and enforcement of age restrictions on purchase.