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Meet the Universal Health Care Commission: Introductions

We are spotlighting the members of the Universal Health Care Commission who introduced themselves at our Second Wednesday Speaker Series on December 8. On the recommendation of the offices of the Washington State Health Care Authority and the Attorney General, we invited only the committee Chair, Vicki Lowe. Following this recommendation enables us to comply with the Open Public Meetings Act. By inviting only Chairperson Vicki Lowe, we prevent the public perception of conflict that would be created if we were to hold a Universal Health Care Commission meeting without making an official announcement. However, we did want to introduce HCFA-WA members to the Commissioners, so we asked them to briefly introduce themselves after Chairperson Vicki Lowe spoke. You can read Vicki Lowe's conversation here or watch the video here.

David Iseminger: Director, Employees and Retirees Benefits Division, the designee on behalf of the Health Care Authority (HCA). The Employee and Retiree Benefits Division of the HCA administers the Public Employee Benefits, the School Employee Benefits Program, state agencies, and approximately 325 political subdivisions that contract and access health benefits. I've been with the Health Care Authority since 2013, so I've seen a lot of work which lends itself to thinking about bigger, bolder efforts within insurance coverage.  

My Interest in the commission: The reason is similar to Vicki's experience. I learned the value of insurance at a young age. There are some people whose families did not win the genetic lottery and utilize health care a lot. So from an early age, I understood the value and importance of insurance. I'm excited to be here.

Senator Emily Randall: From the 26th Legislative District. I am so excited that we are starting this work. It has been a very, very long time coming for advocates on this call, and since my first session in the legislature in 2019. It is a real passion of mine to continue that incredible legacy and ensure that every Washingtonian has access to the care that they need when they need it. 

My Interest in the commission: Before I entered the world of politics as a little girl, my family experienced a medical system that wasn't working for everyone. But we got lucky because when my sister was born with pretty severe developmental disabilities. In 1993, Washington's legislature expanded Medicaid and Olivia got covered. So we didn't have to worry about losing our house to pay all the bills. We know that we have a good template for how we can keep leading the country, keep covering more people.  

Dr. Estell Williams: I am an acute care general surgeon at the University of Washington (UW). I am from Oakland, California, and came to the UW for medical school, stayed for my residency, and now as faculty. I serve as the Executive Director for Workforce Inclusion in Healthcare System Equity, which addresses health care workforce diversification by encouraging, mentoring, and supporting youth, from who are traditionally underrepresented to consider a career in health care.

My Interest in the commission: It is both personal and family experiences in health care. I was not insured for most of my life because even though my father worked in construction, he was not a union member and was not afforded health care. Although I had dreams of becoming a doctor, I actually didn't see one regularly. I, my family, and friends accessed health care through emergency departments. I am on maternity leave with a one-month-old, so excuse me.  

Jane Beyer: I am a Senior Policy Advisor with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. We regulate fully insured health plans, which 1.3 million people in this state received their health insurance coverage through.

My Interest in the commission: Many of you have worked with me over the years. I worked for 20 years as a legislative staffer, I did a stint as the state’s Medicaid Director, a stint as the state's Behavioral Health Commissioner. I think the most important thing I learned over all of those years is that incremental strategies work. We did that with maternal and child health. We had the Washington Basic Health Plan that morphed into the Affordable Care Act. There were bumps along the way, like the repeal of much of the Washington Health Services Act. But one of the things that was retained was the Medicaid expansion for  kids enacted in 1993.  

Joan Altman: I am the Director Of Government Affairs And Strategic Partnerships at the Health Benefits Exchange (the Exchange), and I serve on the Commission as the Pam McEwen designee, who is the CEO of the Exchange. The Exchange runs Washington’s Health Plan that one in four people in Washington state currently use to access medical and dental care. I have worked in health policy for longer than I am going to admit, with nonprofits, the federal level with CMS, and now for several years here at the state level.

My Interest in the commission: I have been involved with lots of you over the years. I hail from the East Coast. I had a chronic illness and have seen health care from someone with a lot of need. I also am the product of two physicians from rural Maine. My parents would barter with their patients, they would get paid with potatoes and other produce. I have seen up close what access to health care can do, particularly for rural communities and for queer communities.  

Representative Joe Schmick: Represents the 9th Legislative District. I am the Ranking Member on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. I bring a pretty good understanding of rural needs. 

Dr. Karen Johnson: I'm Tasha Tisdale, executive assistant to Dr. Karen Johnson, who sends her apologies for not being able to attend this afternoon. Dr. Johnson is the inaugural Director of the newly created Office of Equity. Dr. Johnson is an over-40, melanin-rich queen of African Blackfoot, Cherokee, Japanese, Jewish, and Seminole descent.  She is a cisgendered female that uses she, her, and beloved pronouns.   

My Interest in the commission: Health care is critical, as it impacts people's ability to gain access to health, wealth, and well-being. The Office of Equity stands ready to serve in any way that we can to bring equity and justice for the generations and beyond.

Kristin Peterson: I'm Deputy Secretary for Policy and the Department of Health. I have a long-standing passion for health care policy, in particular access to care.

My Interest in the commission: At a young age, at times I didn't have insurance, so that brings that perspective. This is what's so fascinating about health care is it is a critical population health issue as well as a very personal issue.  

Representative Marcus Riccelli: I represent the 3rd Legislative District in Spokane. I serve on the Health Care and Wellness Committee. The community I represent is one of the most impoverished in the state. We have two of the poorest census tracts.  So how we attack access to care, and make sure that everybody has access to quality health care, is one of the most motivating factors to remain in the job.  

My Interest in the commission: I worked for US Senator Murray Campbell and then was a Policy Advisor for Senator Lisa Brown. Since becoming elected, I have been a prime sponsor for the bill to create the WSU medical school, which was really picking up the baton from our community leaders with lots of bipartisan support. I've become very passionate about oral health access, as well as expanding telehealth. In my day job, I work part time for a field clinic and I see a lot of different perspectives with the folks that we serve.

Mohamed Shidane: I am the Deputy Director of the Somali Health Board, a community-based organization that focuses on addressing the health disparities to Somalia and other immigrants from Africa and other continents. We have vast experience with how the trickle-down effect impacts local and minority communities, and how important it is for all of us to actually have a seat at the table.

My Interest in the commission: I want to work together for not only access and affordability, but also quality of care, meaning providing a life of quality. I bring a lot of experience in that, but I mainly want to learn from all of you.

Nicole Gomez: I am the co-founder Alliance for a Healthy Washington. Also, I actually worked with community members to help pass the Universal Health Care Work Group, and then this bill creating a Universal Health Care Commission. This commission actually means a great deal to me. I've dedicated my post graduate career as a volunteer to work towards a more sustainable, equitable health care system. My background is in advocacy, government policy, legislative experience. I've also worked for years in various workers compensation systems nationwide, both on the care and legal sides, dealing with the common pitfalls like third-party claims and medical malpractice

My Interest in the commission: My father was a small business owner and became seriously ill during a time when our family did not have health insurance. So I know firsthand what it's like to lose a home and a family member to an illness. This has put me on a lifelong track to learn all that I can about various systems affecting health policy. My focus here is to keep us true to the intent of 5399 and constantly consider the social determinants of health. To help us dream of what it could be if we think outside the box.

Stella Vasquez, I am currently the Chief Program Operations Officer for the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. I was born and raised in Yakima Valley, of Hispanic and Filipino descent, but also lived on the Yakama Indian Reservation my entire life.  My career has been my passion, serving underserved and unserved populations, particularly in the area of health.

My Interest in the commission: I was 31 years at DHSH during the time DHSH oversaw Medicaid, so I have quite a bit of experience with that. After leaving the state, I've been almost 20 years with migrant health at the Farm Workers Clinic. I have seen a whole different side of how access is sometimes not available or just the  complexity of the medical programs. When Medicaid was transitioning over to the Health Care Authority, I saw real differences in how you access services through that system.

While I do think that Washington state has been very progressive in terms of health care, I've seen some real complexity around the managed care system and the managed care plans. Although I certainly understand why we transitioned to that type of the system, there have been some real gaps. I was really pleased with the Affordable Care Act, but again, I think we can, we can go further to improve access and affordable health care for all.  

As I said, I've had a real passion and don't quite want to give that up, but I will be retiring in the very near future with the Yakima clinic. So I also saw this commission as an opportunity for me to continue this work.

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