Dear friends and neighbors,
This year's fair season has wrapped up. It was great to see many of you out and about in our communities. Our rural fairs, parades and community days make for a special time of celebration and fellowship. I appreciate the conversations I had with several of you as we exchanged ideas, problems and solutions.
Since the Legislature adjourned in July I have been busy attending meetings around the state on a variety of issues. It's important for me to stay connected with my constituents – my friends and neighbors from the 9th Legislative District – but also important to continually be educated on the emerging and ever-changing realities of our state healthcare system, agriculture needs, budgetary obligations and education system.
Last month, I participated in a rural healthcare tour. It focused on the opioid epidemic, workforce issues and overall access to healthcare for our rural residents. We've had nursing shortages in the past and are once again seeing this and doctor, physician's assistant and advanced registered nurse practitioner shortages, especially in the areas of mental health and chemical dependency. As we move toward the integration of physical, mental and chemical dependency healthcare in 2020 for our Medicaid populations, these shortages will become more apparent and more dire.
We also discussed the fact that Obamacare rates are going up, while plan choices are going down. Back in June, 11 health insurers filed 71 health plans, down from 153 the year before, for our state's individual and family health insurance market. A news release from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner reveals that “Rates for the health plans certified represent a 24 percent increase over those available through the Exchange for 2017 coverage.” Unfortunately, this is the largest rate increase in our state since the Exchange started offering insurance plans in 2013.
While some would like to blame President Trump for the failings of the Affordable Care Act, the fact is Obamacare was in a free fall prior to Trump being elected President. Congress needs to unite around health care reforms that will fix the problems created by Obamacare, including higher costs and fewer options. To date, this has not happened, which is very frustrating.
I also took part in a tour and presentation at the Teanaway Community Forest. This is Washington's first community-owned forest and has been undergoing unique and groundbreaking processes to ensure recreation availability and forest health. It will serve as a new model for engaging in specific forest fire prevention techniques, including select cattle grazing, some harvest and some potential controlled burns to keep forest fuel levels down. All while maintaining recreational activities like mountain bike riding, horseback riding, hiking, some motorized sports and camping.
In Mansfield, we toured a pear orchard where we discussed continuing labor shortages and the federal H2A worker program.
We then went to Bridgeport, home of the Chief Joseph Dam, where we toured a new tribal fish hatchery that was part of the original treaty and was the culmination of 10 years of work. We also saw new technology (WHOOSHH, or the salmon cannon) help fish get upstream via a suction transport system. Originally designed to transport fresh fruit like apples quickly and safely, this technology is now being adapted for salmon. Think of it like the drive-up bank teller where you send your paper and money through a vacuum tube. It's fascinating technology and has been proven to be less stressful on fish than other modes of transport.
As the 2018 legislative session is just two-and-a-half months away, my schedule is already starting to fill up. If you would like to set up a meeting with me in district or Olympia, please contact my office as soon as possible. We do our best to set aside time for constituents before and during the legislative session.
Thank you for the honor of serving you in the state Legislature.