The 2023 legislative session ended Sunday, April 23, marking 105 days of budget writing and policymaking for the year.
This year, Life Science Washington (LSW) began the session with a modest agenda, which grew significantly when our state’s Health Care Authority (HCA) sought to amend legislation passed just last year without their objection that would have given them virtually unchecked authority to set upper payment limits on all drugs. We were successful in stopping the bill this year. In addition to stopping this legislation, we were successful in securing improvements or exemptions in a number of additional bills impacting biotech and medical device companies. We also advocated for research funding, budget investments in STEM education, workforce and career training, and capital funds for higher education science facilities. Below is a summary of the legislative items that LSW was active on this session:
State Budget Priorities
- Andy Hill Cancer Research Fund (CARE Fund)—fully funded at $20.6 million. This is the first time the state has funded the program to its statutory maximum.
- University of Washington—STEM education requests fully funded at all three campuses.
- Washington State University—New public health degree program with an infectious disease track in Pullman and behavioral health track in Spokane and Vancouver fully funded.
- Career Connect Washington—$2,075,000 increase for career connected learning grants.
- WSU Pullman Eastlick-Abelson renovation—providing improved research and teaching space to help meet growing student demand in high-needs areas as part of the construction of a new Pullman Sciences Building—$22 million.
- WSU Spokane Team Health Building—funding for design, demolition, and site preparation for the new facility that will support experiential learning, clinical education through simulation, and clinical research providing enhanced learning opportunities for both students and local health care providers—$7 million.
Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB)
A new effort by the state’s Health Care Authority (HCA) would have dramatically expended the nascent PDAB established in a heavily-negotiated bill just last year. It would have removed safeguards for innovative therapies being developed and manufactured in Washington, as well as important protections for medicines for patients with rare diseases, and cutting-edge therapies for patients at our leading hospitals and cancer centers. From a process standpoint, it was almost unprecedented for a state agency to seek legislation completely rewriting legislation that passed just last year, which they didn’t oppose or even provide testimony. LSW and our partners succeeded in urging legislators to reject this bad bill.
Health Care Data Privacy
The legislature has tried for many years to address comprehensive data privacy but struggled to find agreement across both chambers. This year, legislative Democrats and Attorney General Bob Ferguson focused on health care data privacy with an eye towards reproductive rights. As is often the case with privacy legislation, the original bill would have had unintended consequences that would have impacted clinical trials, FDA-reporting, and other Federal HIPPA data requirements that needed to be addressed. The final bill, awaiting the governor’s signature to become law, includes a comprehensive set of amendments that LSW worked with legislators to include that provide exemptions that align the legislation with HIPPA and FDA reporting requirements, and protect the integrity of research and clinical trials.
Diversity in Clinical Trials
If clinical trials don’t reflect the patient population, then disparities in access to treatment can be compounded, particularly for people of color. To help solve this problem, the legislature passed legislation and made budget investments that will improve outreach to underrepresented communities through trusted messengers and culturally appropriate materials in multiple languages.
Battery Take-Back and Recycling Program
This bill requires producers of certain batteries to participate in a stewardship organization that plans for and provides battery collection and disposal. The original bill included an exemption for medical devices, but authorized the Department of Ecology to adopt future rules that could impact medical devices and manufacturers. Since many medical devices require FDA approval, state rulemaking could require costly, time-consuming redesign that could jeopardize FDA approval. The final bill that passed the legislature was narrowed to remove Ecology’s ability to unilaterally include medical devices in a battery recycling program. It is on the Governor’s desk for his signature.
Biomarker Testing Coverage
Following up on legislation passed in 2022 that banned prior-authorization requirements for biomarker testing, the American Cancer Society led a coalition in support of a new bill to guarantee coverage for testing. The bill’s scope was narrowed to address heavy cost assumptions, but ultimately did not advance out of the fiscal committee.
Career Connect Washington (CCW)
Life Science Washington is proud to serve as the Life Sciences Sector Lead for CCW, a partnership between the state government, business, labor, education, and community leaders to create work-based and academic programs for young people to explore career paths and obtain work experience while getting college credits. CCW pursued legislation to implement part of the CCW Futures Plan that calls for the creation of an Office of Career Connect Washington within the Washington Student Achievement Council to ensure continuity of the program, strengthen industry partnerships, and ensure accountability. The bill received a strong public hearing and unanimous vote in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee but stalled in the fiscal committee.
Right to Repair
Legislation requiring personal electronic device manufacturers to share parts, tools, and information with independent repairs shops has been introduced for several years without success. While the bill’s sponsor is focused on making it easier and more affordable to repair devices like phones and laptops, LSW sought to exempt medical devices in recognition of the implications for health and safety that exist with repairing and servicing those devices. This latest proposal was again amended to exclude medical devices. The legislation ultimately did not advance due in large part to heavy opposition by the technology industry.
Rare Disease Advisory Council
A proposal by local parent advocates to elevate the needs of families impacted by rare disease was reintroduced this year to advise state government on policies to improve health care access, early diagnosis, and medical education programs. The bill got bogged down by bureaucratic opposition, but before this year’s legislative session had even ended, advocates began preparing a new strategy that will hopefully see the bill pass in 2024. We will continue engaging with the rare disease advocate community to support their efforts.