Health Care & Human Services

Washington state is a national leader in the delivery of high-quality, lower-cost health care. Washington is one of the top 10 states for health care access thanks to full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion. The state achieved a record-low uninsured rate with nearly 800,000 thousand Washingtonians gaining access to health insurance, and 30,000 Washingtonians gaining access to opioid treatments and behavioral health services.

Current Work


For information on COVID-19, and Washington state's response:


  • Addressing public health crises. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for increased protections for frontline workers during a public health emergency. The governor acted on a number of bills passed during the 2021 legislative session to bolster protections for workers, especially in times of crisis. 
  • Covering more people, providing better care at lower costs. Gov. Inslee’s Healthier Washington plan aims to transform health care in Washington state so that people experience better health during their lives, receive better care when they need it, and get more affordable and accessible care.
  • Addressing the opioid crisis. In 2017, Gov. Inslee signed Executive Order 16-09 directing state agencies to work with local public health, tribal governors and other partners across the state on an opioid response plan to reduce opioid abuse, increase addiction treatment and make overdose antidotes more accessible. 
  • Healthiest Next GenerationWe can bend the curve of childhood obesity by supporting things like a healthy diet, regular exercise and an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in school. The governor’s initiative also supports youth substance use prevention and education efforts, such as regulating e-cigarettes and advocating to raise the minimum age for tobacco use to 21.
  • Improving behavioral health care. At the governor’s request, the Legislature passed HB 1388 to support integrating physical services and behavioral health services, such as addiction treatment and mental health care, statewide for Apple Health (Medicaid) clients. The bill better aligns the functions of three state agencies to help consumers navigate the system more effectively and to receive better coordinated, quality and cost-effective care. The governor also announced a five-year plan to transition our mental health system away from large institutions to smaller, community-based facilities to treat patients more effectively and closer to friends and family.
  • Reduce firearm fatalities and suicides. In January of 2016, Gov. Inslee announced an executive order launching a statewide public health initiative to reduce and prevent gun-related fatalities and injuries. The order also implements the Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan. The governor has also signed numerous pieces of legislation, including a bill to ban bump stocks and a bill to ensure that people who are found to be a threat to themselves or others are not allowed access to firearms.
  • Long-term health care services and supports. Gov. Inslee held an aging summit in 2014 to prepare for the expected population increase of older Washingtonians, and now, according to AARP, our state has the best long-term health care program in the nation.

Human Services

  • Results Washington. Healthy and Safe Communities 
  • Reduce homelessness. Numerous efforts are underway to address youth homelessness, boost treatment for opioid addiction and mental health issues, and partner with local governments to expand affordable housing options through additional resources and land use policies.   
  • Help at-risk children and families thrive from the start. In 2016, the governor convened the Blue Ribbon Commission on Children and Families, a group of experts who recommended bringing together early learning and family support services under one agency. As a result, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families launched in July 2018 with a focus on preventive family interventions, as well as equity for all Washington children. The agency provides all services previously housed in the Department of Early Learning and some services previously provided by the Department of Social and Health Services.

Key Successes

  • Public option and guaranteed consumer protections. Inslee signed the first-in-the-nation public option legislation, known as Cascade Care, to combat attempts by President Trump and congressional Republicans to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill will ensure affordable insurance options for every Washingtonian through the state’s Health Benefits Exchange. Inslee signed another bill that reinforces several consumer protections in the ACA, including the much-discussed right that no person will be denied health coverage because they have a pre-existing medical condition. This ensures that even if the federal government rolls back the ACA, those protections will remain in place for Washington consumers.
  • First-in-the-nation long-term care benefits. Another first-in-the-nation bill signed by Inslee creates a long-term care benefit, similar to a Social Security or Medicare benefit. Because Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care, the benefit will be crucial for the growing numbers of workers and families who do not have long-term care insurance and find themselves unable to pay for necessary health and care services.
  • Transformation of Washington’s mental and behavioral health system. Transforming Washington’s struggling behavioral health system has been one of Inslee’s top budget priorities. The budget and various policy bills signed by the governor will emphasize community-based care for civil patients and state hospitals for forensic patients. Funding will secure approximately 600 placements in community facilities and approximately 120 beds in community hospitals and evaluation and treatment centers. The budget also supports the construction of 60 additional forensic beds at the state hospitals and a new forensic hospital. A new teaching hospital at the University of Washington will serve patients while also expanding training to fill the state and national shortage of behavioral health workers.
  • Youth smoking and vaping. Inslee signed legislation increasing the tobacco and vaping purchasing age from 18 to 21. The new policy is based on compelling data showing 90 percent of daily smokers report they first started smoking when they were 19, and a dramatic rise in youth vaping rates in recent years.
  • Stronger vaccine protections. Following a measles outbreak in Washington state that infected dozens of people, legislators approved a policy that removes the philosophical or personal objection exemption for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.  
  • Opioid treatment and prevention. This new law provides comprehensive prevention and treatment options and establishes a new clinical treatment standard that supports medication treatment for opioid use disorder. This is the latest action in a multi-year effort that started when the governor issued an executive order and state plan in 2016.
  • More affordable housing. Additional funding for the state’s Housing Trust Fund will build up to 4,100 new affordable housing units and preserve as many as 500 aging affordable housing units for a broad spectrum of vulnerable populations, including those with chronic mental illness, homeless families, youth and individuals, veterans, farmworkers, seniors and individuals with special needs. Local governments and homeless service providers will be able to provide rent assistance to about 1,000 additional vulnerable individuals, and about 135 additional families will receive permanent supportive housing services from the state.
  • Reforming behavioral health care. To help Medicaid clients navigate the health care system, Gov. Inslee signed legislation to combine and better coordinate physical health services, mental health services and addiction treatment. He also approved funding for strategies to fight the state’s opioid epidemic and money to expand behavioral health services in local communities.
  • Tackling the opioid crisis. Washington expanded the hub-and-spoke treatment model across the state to help people with opioid substance use disorder find help. The state has also reduced opioid prescribing, taken legal action against opioid prescription manufacturers, and has seen a decline in unintentional opioid overdose deaths and the percentage of minors abusing painkillers. 
  • Reproductive Parity Act. Gov. Inslee signed SB 6219, requiring reproductive parity in all health insurance plans in Washington. This means plans that offer maternity coverage must also cover contraception and abortions.
  • Breakfast After the Bell. In high-need schools, Breakfast After the Bell programs allow students to eat breakfast during instructional time, accommodating hungry students who can’t make it to school for breakfast before class begins. Following a five-year effort, the governor signed HB 1508, establishing Breakfast After the Bell in Washington.
  • Health care transparency. Washington has launched HealthCareCompare, an online tool for the public that shares information from the state’s All-Payer Claims Database about expected costs of common medical procedures, as well as health care quality ratings. Landmark legislation requested by the governor in 2015 requires commercial health insurance companies to disclose information for the database.
  • Improving services for children and families. Gov. Inslee signed HB 1661, establishing the new Department of Children, Youth, and Families. The department brings together services previously scattered across other agencies, including early learning, child welfare and juvenile justice programs, better equipping the state and its many partners to protect children and youth from harm and promote healthy development.
  • Progress on helping homeless youth. Gov. Inslee issued Directive 17-01, creating an interagency workgroup on youth homelessness led by the Office of Youth Homelessness.
  • Investing in mental health care. The 2017-2019 budget included $66 million in state funds to expand capacity at community-based mental health facilities for patients ordered into commitment by a court.
  • Protecting minors against harmful products. Gov. Inslee signed SB 6328 to strengthen protections for minors against the sale and use of e-cigarettes and vapor products. The bill is part of the governor’s Healthiest Next Generation efforts.
  • Reducing lead exposure. Gov. Inslee issued a directive to the state Department of Health and partner agencies to assist local communities with lead testing and take steps aimed at reducing lead exposure in Washington.
  • Investments in behavioral health workforce. One of the key health care reforms underway in Washington state is the improved integration of mental health with primary care and chemical dependency treatment. This new behavioral health approach will require additional health care workers. Gov. Inslee directed the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, in partnership with the Health Workforce Council, to evaluate current and projected workforce shortages in behavioral health. 
  • A healthier Washington. In 2015, more than 700,000 Washingtonians were enrolled in new, more affordable health care plans thanks to our state exchange, bringing the state’s uninsured rate to an all-time low: 6 percent. 
  • Better health care information on price and quality. In an effort to make health care data more transparent and available, Gov. Inslee worked to pass SB 5084, which created an all-payer claims database. The database gives consumers, employers, medical providers and policy makers the information they need to make informed decisions about buying and using health care.
  • Better mental health care. Mental health care is one of Gov. Inslee’s top priorities.
    • He worked to pass HB 1450, which made it easier for the families of people with mental health issues to get proper emergency mental care for their loved ones. 
    • He also helped pass SB 5177 to address the unacceptably long wait times of people charged with crimes whose ability to stand trial is in question until they receive certain mental health services, a process known as “competency restoration.” 
    • The final 2015-2017 budget invested $40 million in the forensic mental health system by increasing staff and available beds and created the Office of Forensic Mental Health Services. 
  • Ensuring the Healthiest Next Generation. The 2015-2017 budget continued the governor’s Healthiest Next Generation initiative and programs to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
  • Fair pay for health care workers. Supported living providers help thousands of people with disabilities and health issues remain at home instead of living in costly assisted care facilities. These providers, many of whom earn minimum wage, received their first raise in eight years.
  • Homeless youth. Gov. Inslee’s Homeless Youth Act established the Office of Youth Homelessness within the Department of Commerce, charged with coordinating services to make sure that youth can easily access the resources they need. The office makes recommendations to the governor and Legislature about the strategies and resources needed to improve youth homelessness services. 
  • Support for our veterans. Gov. Inslee’s veterans’ tuition bill makes veterans, their spouses and their children eligible to attend our public colleges and universities and pay resident tuition rates.
  • A healthier Washington. Gov. Inslee launched the Healthiest Next Generation initiative to make Washington’s next generation the healthiest ever. The initiative’s workgroup recommends state policies that support community-led encouragement for children to be more active and eat better.
  • Better mental health care. The governor’s HB 2572 passed to improve mental health care integration, cost transparency and the purchasing of health care. SB 6312 is the complimentary bill that improved the way we care for people with severe mental illness, integrated chemical dependency with that care and began the integration of care to treat the whole person.
  • Support for our veterans. 
    • The governor’s office worked to pass HB 2363, which allows developmentally disabled children of military service members to continue to qualify for home and community based services while the service member and family are out of state due to military assignment. Washington was the first state in the nation to pass such legislation.
    • The governor’s request legislation HB 2171 passed to help strengthen economic protections for military personnel. 
  • Affordable health care. With bipartisan support, Washington implemented the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid to ensure access to affordable health care for low-income families. Read Gov. Inslee's Executive Order on the Affordable Care Act here.
  • Support for our veterans. Gov. Inslee’s first executive order helped boost the hiring of Washington’s veterans. The order increased the state’s collective efforts to make sure veterans and their families share in Washington’s prosperity.