Public Policy

Public Policy 2020-01-23T20:26:02+00:00
Our 2020 Advocacy Agenda: We Put Recovery First!
At our 2019 Recovery Summit, recovery advocates came together to dig into solving our most pressing behavioral health system challenges in Washington. Thanks to your collective experience, knowledge, and ideas, we identified four core policy priorities for legislative advocacy during the 2020 session that will help members of our community start their recovery journey, stay in recovery, and live their most fulfilling lives. For a PDF of this information, click here.

#1: End the Opioid Distributors Tax Break: HB 2734

In Washington State, “pharmaceutical distributors” (companies that import large batches of drugs, including opioids, and resell them to local pharmacies) are given special treatment in our tax code. They receive a special discount on certain taxes that other businesses have to pay in full. That tax break increases the profits of those companies while the state loses nearly $20 million each year in potential funding for behavioral health.

This session, our top priority is ending this tax break and dedicating that ~$20 million per year specifically to treatment and recovery support services not funded by Medicaid. Instead of helping big pharmaceutical companies and distributors make more profit, those funds should help Washingtonians and their families recover from substance use disorder and mental health challenges. Examples of programs that could be funded by ending this tax break:

  • Certified Recovery Housing: Resources to build and purchase high-quality recovery housing facilities to support people in early recovery
  • Recovery Coaching: Funds to launch a WA State Recovery Coaching Network, aggregate and share recovery coaching training opportunities and resources, and create systems for matching recovery coaches with organizations and individuals.

#2: “No Wrong Door” Inpatient Treatment Accessibility: HB 2642

Currently, inpatient behavioral health treatment providers require something called insurance preauthorization — proof that a patient’s insurance covers services at a given location — before that patient can receive care. As a result, patients in need of substance use and mental health treatment are often turned away when they seek help because of confusing insurance requirements. 

HB 2642 would end pre-authorization for detox AND residential treatment, creating a direct pathway to care for people seeking treatment, including those coming from jail or emergency rooms. Everyone deserves fully-covered care when they need it, regardless of confusing insurance networks and regulations.

In addition to active bills HB 2734 and HB 2642, the WRA supports two other important advocacy areas that affect people in recovery but do not have designated bills in action as of yet:

Clean Slate Criminal Justice Reform

The WRA is proud to have partnered on the passage of the WA State New Hope Act during the 2019 legislative session. This bill created a pathway for people with prior convictions who have completed their full sentence to “vacate” their conviction records; making those records invisible on a standard background check. This will make it easier for those folks, to access housing, employment, and other resources and opportunities. Clean Slate Criminal Justice Reforms aim to automate the process of vacating these records, removing the legal obstacles and expenses currently required to apply for vacation. These efforts could result in prior convictions vacated for thousands of members of our recovery community, clearing the way for them to live their most fulfilling lives.

UPDATE: HB 2793 was filed on 1/22/2020, which would automate the process of vacating criminal convictions eligible under the New Hope Act. This bill would help reduce barriers to housing and employment for people in recovery – which we know helps people live well, and stay in recovery.

Behavioral Health Workforce Stabilization

The strength of the relationship with a behavioral health treatment provider is a key predictor in treatment outcomes. Recruiting and retaining highly qualified behavioral health workers is an ongoing challenge in the field, and contributes to poor outcomes for people who need services. Providers are spread thin trying to meet the demand for services, comply with ever-changing demands of insurance, and struggle to offer competitive wages due to inadequate funding. The WRA advocates for resources to expand and stabilize the behavioral health workforce in our state so that treatment can be more accessible and people in recovery can maintain long-term, trusting relationships with well-trained staff as they pursue their recovery journey.

State Legislative Advocacy: History

The Washington Recovery Alliance formed as a response to the lack of an organized voice advocating for recovery issues in Washington state. We held the state’s inaugural Recovery Advocacy Day in 2016 and have returned each year. In 2018, we had 117 recovery advocates participate! The WRA’s 2018 advocacy efforts were focused on:

  • Expanding access to recovery support services
    • Allocating Medicaid funding for substance use disorder peer/recovery coach services
    • Passing HB 1524 to allow Criminal Justice Treatment Account funds to be used for recovery support services
    • Allowing peer-run agencies to bill Medicaid
  • Increasing Medicaid rates for behavioral health
  • Sentencing reform for drug possession charges

A more detailed description of our advocacy priorities is available here: WRA 2018 State Legislative Priorities.

Past State Legislative Advocacy Efforts

2017: In partnership with other organizations, the WRA successfully advocated for $26 million in state funding to extend inpatient substance use disorder treatment stays beyond 15 days for clients receiving Medicaid.

2016: The WRA initiated the state’s inaugural Recovery Advocacy Day on January 26, 2016.  In that first year, the WRA led advocacy efforts for the successful passage of Ricky’s Law, landmark legislation which created a crisis treatment system for youth and adults with life-threatening addiction. Information for friends and family about how to use Ricky’s Law is available here.

Bringing Recovery to the Table

The WRA and our regional recovery coalitions are working to embed recovery advocates on state, regional, and local behavioral health policy and planning groups. At present, we have successfully placed advocates on five state-level groups and four local/regional groups. As one of our experienced advocates, Shereese Rhodes says: “If you don’t have a seat at the table, pull up a chair!”