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Spin Control

Posts tagged: health care reform

Health benefits website running smoother

OLYMPIA – More than 165,000 people have visited Washington’s website designed to help them find medical insurance, and about 9,400 individuals or families have enrolled in some type of plan.

After some computer problems in the opening days that resulted in long delays for both the website and at call centers, state officials say the system is improved and has run smoothly since Saturday morning…

Inslee: Healthcare page to open despite shutdown

OLYMPIA — Washington state will debut its web site to help people find medical insurance under Obamacare on Tuesday even if the federal government is forced into a shutdown over health care reform, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Some state workers might be furloughed, some job training programs could be cancelled and some road projects might eventually put on hold if the shutdown continues, Inslee said. But the new health care exchange, a way for uninsured people to shop for the best deal on medical insurance, will be up and running sometime in the morning even if Congress deadlocks and doesn't pass legislation to continue paying for some parts of the government.

 “We will be open for business,” Inslee said of the Washington Health Plan Finder, which had its web address and toll-free number on the podium beneath his microphone. 

 As many as 1 million Washington residents are expected to get health care in the coming years through the exchange and the expansion of Medicaid. Increased federal money for the Medicaid expansion is also expected to help the state balance its budget.

State agencies are still trying to determine how programs that get some or all of their money from the federal government will be affected by a shutdown. Training programs to help returning military veterans would be put on hold, Inslee said. Extended unemployment insurance benefits come from the federal government, and could be delayed. The state Department of Transportation might delay some projects that  rely on federal transportation money.

Some 1,000 civilian employees of the Washington National Guard could be sent home a few hours after they arrive at work Tuesday. Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the Guard, said they could come to work Tuesday morning and be told they have four hours to wrap up and go home until further notice. About 120 workers got notices last week that they could be furloughed, but their labor contract requires a seven-day notice, so they may be working through this week but it's not clear if the state would be reimbursed for their pay.

GOP gov candidates split over health care reaction

OLYMPIA — In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have a split in their party's candidates for governor.

Attorney General Rob McKenna, by far the GOP frontrunner for governor, joined one of the key lawsuits that because he doubted the constitutionality of the individual mandate, said post-decision that that question was answered. Time to get on with implementation and stop talking about a wholesale repeal of the law, he said in a press conference.

Shahram Hadian, an Iranian-American Christian pastor is a long-shot to be sure, but is trying to close the gap by vowing to be as resolute against federal health care reform and “join other fiscally conservative, freedom loving, citizen defending, courageous governors to rise up against the implementation of this unconstitutional and outrageous law.”  He lists some current Republican governors who he says are refusling to implement Obamacare in their states, and includes Idaho's Butch Otter in that list. (In fact Otter hasn't said much post-decision because he was out of the office when it came down, other than he's not calling a special session to deal with setting up a health insurance exchange or other looming provisions of the federal law.)

Hadian isn't the only other Republican sharing the primary ballot with McKenna, but he's the only other one with anything close to an active campaign, and the only other one allowed to address the GOP state convention. He a sent out a fund-raising appeal and press release late last week based on fighting federal health care reform: “As the next governor, I will invoke the 10th Amendment rights and fight tooth and nail in refusing to implement any part of Obamacare. Period.”

It's a strong appeal to the Tea Party wing of the GOP. But it seems to ignore the fact that unlike Idaho, the Washington Legislature has already set the state on course to have a health insurance exchange in time for the federal deadline. So he'd have to convince the Lege to repeal that law,  toss out that work and give up the promise of federal funds for the exchange.

Of course, if Mitt Romney wins the White House and Republicans take control of both house of Congress, that  all may be taken care of in the other Washington. But that would be the case for McKenna… or even Democrat Jay Inslee, should he win.

McKenna: We won on Commerce Clause argument

Attorney General Rob McKenna did his best to count victories this morning after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the lawsuit he joined to overturn the Affordable Care Act. And he said other Republicans should drop talk of a wholesale repeal of the law because “that's not going to happen.”

At a late morning press conference, McKenna insisted the ruling was good for Washington because the court ruled Congress doesn't have the authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause to order people to buy health care insurance. “We achieved our goal” of finding that out, he said.

 But he was surprised by the decision of five members of the court to rule the mandate is allowable under Congress's taxing authority, adding that Chief Justice John Roberts' determination that the tax isn't subject to the restrictions of some other taxes was “a bracket buster.”

The state should move ahead with its work to meet provisions of the law, such as the Health Insurance Exchange which will allow individuals to shop for insurance more easilly, he said, and to look for more ways to reform health care.

But other Republicans should stop talking about repealing the law, and instead focus on specific provisions that prove unworkable, he said.

Democrats passed a massive bill with many controversial provisions by pushing it through Congress. “To completely blow it  up means we're essentially doing the same thing, in reverse,” he said.

Besides, the Democratically controlled Senate isn't going to repeal the law, and Obama isn't going to sign a repeal, he said.

Caseload forecast: State will spend a bit less

OLYMPIA — The “other shoe” in the state's budget picture dropped lightly today.

The caseload forecast, which along with last week's revenue forecast helps predict whether the state's long-term finances are in the red or black, had some good news in it. Some of the big costs of state government — the number of kids in public schools, the number of inmates in prisons, the number of families receiving temporary assistance or medical assistance, the number children in foster care — were projected to be lower than forecasters thought in February.

Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform and a person who understands these numbers far more than Spin Control ever will, says the changes overall add about $56 million to the state General Fund's bottom line. That's a line that's extremely narrow right now, because the Lege didn't leave much in reserve.

Of course, the savings could be wiped out tomorrow, depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court does on federal health care reform.  “For today at least,  however, good budget news,” Mercier says.

The full report can be found here.

While lawyers argue health care mandate, protesters march

Protesters cross a downtown intersection in Olympia on their way from the landing near the Port of Olympia to the offices of Attorney General Rob McKenna.

OLYMPIA – As the U.S. Supreme Court questioned lawyers about the constitutionality of making Americans buy health insurance, a liberal group that supports the rule protested Tuesday outside the offices of a business group and a state official who oppose it.

About 100 demonstrators, several who drove across the state from Spokane, demonstrated outside the Washington office of the National Federation of Independent Business, then marched through downtown Olympia to the office of Attorney General Rob McKenna.

“We need to change things for the next generation, so they don’t get worse,” Aaron Kathman, a community organizer from Spokane, said…

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Senate passes health exchange bill

OLYMPIA – Despite Republican objections that it was moving too fast, and reported threats of political reprisals, the Senate approved changes to a system of shopping for medical insurance care that supporters liken to internet sites like Travelocity.
By a 27-22 vote, senators set new rules for the state’s fledgling health care exchange, which is being set up in conjunction with the federal Affordable Care Act.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

People dying without health insurance, panel told

Jaydra Cope at the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee hearing.

OLYMPIA – Jaydra Cope of Spokane sat patiently through a legislative hearing Monday on federal health care reform as Republicans and Democrats sparred over sections of the law and insurance companies differed over whether a bill should be changed.

The Eastern Washington University social work student hoped to deliver much simpler message to the committee than the intricacies of health care exchanges or the differences between bronze, silver or gold plans. If there was time.

“People are dying,” Cope said outside hearing room. Her brother was one of them. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 22: Another committee vote on same-sex marriage

OLYMPIA — The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the same-sex marriage bill this afternoon. Expect a repeat of last week's hearing in Senate Government Operations: some efforts by Republicans to modify it, but enough votes to send it to the full House.

That's  not the only thing happening today, however. House and Senate policy committees — that is, the ones that deal with bills other than the budget — are playing beat the clock on the piles of legislation introduced since before the session started.

Friday is the first cut off or “drop dead” day. Any policy bill that hasn't been passed out of its first committee in the chamber where the bill originated is technically dead.

Well, OK, it's not “really most sincerely dead” as the Munchkins would say, because there are parliamentary ways to revive a bill. But it's definitely need of someone with a pair of electro-shock paddles.

So at the same time the same-sex marriage bill is being run through executive session, a Senate committe has a hearing on several bills involving health care reform and a House committee  has a hearing on bills involving political advertising and the initiative process.

Spec Sess Day 16: Health care laws signed

OLYMPIA – Washington will stay in the forefront of federal health care reform, and could save as much as $26 billion over the next decade, with a half dozen bills signed into law Wednesday.

Even though the federal health care reforms are being challenged in court and by critics in Congress, Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state officials said the new state laws are needed now. They also make Washington eligible for federal funds while giving the state the chance to reshape health care to fit its needs.

“We can’t sit back and wait,” State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said. “Doing nothing means the feds are going to take over.”

To read the rest of this story, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

On health care reform birthday, not everyone happy

The federal Affordable Care Act, aka health care reform, aka Obamacare, turns one year old today.

Those who would like to celebrate with a cake and a candle include Gov. Chris Gregoire, who said in a prepared statement that it's doing good things including providing some 45,000 seniors with $250 toward prescription drug costs and keeping kids from being denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

Those who would be more likely to blow out the candle and wish the law would go awayh or be changed dramatically include Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who called it a disaster that is more expensive than suspected a year ago.

Somewhat coincidentally, the House Health Care Committee passed a bill to begin the process, albeit slowly, to set up health exchanges, one of the provisions of the act.

Want to read the full comments from Gregoire and McMorris Rodgers, or comment on them? Click here to go inside the blog…

Supreme Court ponders: Who is the state?

OLYMPIA — The federal lawsuit in Florida over health care reform raises many interesting questions about state’s rights and federal mandates. But it also sparked some interesting debates today in the Washington Supreme Court over who represents the state in a legal dispute, and even, what is the state.

Read today’s report on City of Seattle v. Rob McKenna by clicking here.

Health care reform keeping lawyers busy

OLYMPIA – As Attorney General Rob McKenna prepares to convince the state Supreme Court why he can fight federal health care reform, a state legislator joined a group trying to tell a federal court that he shouldn’t.
McKenna is scheduled to be in the state’s highest court Thursday morning, defending against a challenge by the City of Seattle, the governor and others to his decision to add Washington to a federal lawsuit trying to stop portions of the new health care law.
The state’s highest court will be asked to decide whether McKenna could make Washington state a party to the federal challenge to a law that Gov. Chris Gregoire and others contend is good for the state and its residents.
“The attorney general has gone forward over the objections of the legislative leadership and the governor,” state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said Tuesday.
But it’s mainly the Democratic leadership who object….

Today’s fun video: Rockin against health care reform

Even if you support health care reform, this opposition video from Dem Strait  has fun visuals, a good reworking of the lyrics, and as they used to say on Bandstand, it’s got a good beat, you can dance to it.

How would you give it if Dick Clark asked  you for a rating?

Rossi, GOP denounce threat on Murray

The state Republican Party and couldbe candidate Dino Rossi were quick Tuesday to denounce a Selah man’s death threat against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said he was “horrified by this awful news, prays for Sen. Murray’s safety, and condemns any threats made to any public official.” State GOP Chairman Luke Esser also condemned the activity: “Threats of violence have no place in our political process. We are pleased that this man has been taken into custody.”

The man in question, Charles Alan Wilson, allegedly called Murray’s office numerous times in recent months, most recently making threats over her vote for health care reform, using phrases that suggested he was armed and planned to use it. Wilson was arrested earlier Tuesday.

Health care is expected to be a major issue in the fall elections, but could violence against officials who voted for health care be a game-changer that works against Republicans?

Health Care Reform: One waiver, one challenge

OLYMPIA – Washington state may be first in line for one aspect of the new federal Health Care Reform law, submitting a request for some $180 million in federal money to help with pay for the state’s Basic Health Plan.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell joined several state officials Monday in hailing the new law, and saying they’ve already sent in a request for what’s known as “bridge funding”. That provision allows a state to request money through 2014 to help cover the costs of health insurance of residents who make too much to receive Medicaid but can’t afford private plans.
Washington has about 65,000 people on its Basic Health Plan who state officials believe should be covered by a waiver. If the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, the federal government could pay for two-thirds of their insurance costs, up to $180 million a year through 2014. That would ease the state’s budget problems and allow the state to expand the program.
“We want to be at the head of the line,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed late Monday Washington was the first to apply for the waiver, but could only say the application would be processed “as quickly as possible.”
While Gregoire is seeking the waiver, Attorney General Rob McKenna is challenging aspects of Health Care Reform. Last week he joined 12 other attorneys general in a lawsuit over the requirement that all individuals buy health insurance by 2014 and for provisions that would raise the cost of Medicaid later this decade.
McKenna said Monday that if the state receives the waiver and gets federal money for Basic Health, it won’t block Washington from arguing that other sections of the new law are unconstitutional. If the federal courts rule the individual insurance mandate and the Medicaid increases are unconstitutional, other provisions, including the bridge funding, the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or extending coverage to young adults on their parents plans would remain in place, he said.
Even though the provisions in the lawsuit don’t take effect for years, “these are important questions to challenge now,” McKenna said.
Gregoire disagrees with McKenna’s decision to join the lawsuit and Monday repeated her belief that it has no merit. States can opt out of Medicaid, she said, if they’re willing to give up the federal money.

WA Lege SpeSess: GOP senators send fan mail to McKenna

OLYMPIA — Most of the country may keep in touch with e-mail and texting, but Attorney General Rob McKenna needs to  keep his letter opener handy for a while. He’s getting messages the old fashioned way, in letters..

His latest pen pals are the 16 Senate Republicans, who Thursday announced that they were sending a him nice letter to him for joining the lawsuit against the federal health care mandates. According to the recently issued press release, they told him:

“Our caucus has long sought to ensure all Washingtonians have access to high-quality, affordable health care while maintaining our commitments to the vulnerable, working poor and elderly. Over the years we have introduced legislation to accomplish this goal,” the letter stated. 
“We believe that the future of our government ‘of the people and by the people’ is in peril when any group sees fit to suspend the constitution and laws in service of their own agenda. …It is vital that our courts address these fundamental constitutional concerns prior to the full implementation of the legislation. We are convinced that a legally sound approach to health reform will be more successful and will better serve our fellow citizens over the long term.”

They also mentioned several pieces of legislation that various Republicans introduced to block federal health care reform mandates in Washington. None of the bills got a hearing or a vote, but they are on the books.

This press release comes just a few  hours after a pair of legislative Democrats, Sen. Karen Fraser and Rep. Eileen Cody, said pretty much the opposite, that federal health care reform is both constitutional and important for the state’s ability to maintain the Basic Health Plan, is constitutional, and should not be challenged by McKenna. They said they were sending  him a letter asking him to drop out of the case.

Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader LIsa Brown also sent him a letter with pretty much the same message.

WA Lege SpecSess: Cut McKenna’s budget? Not likely right now

OLYMPIA — Although some Democratic legislators have talked of cutting Attorney General Rob McKenna’s budget to keep him from joining the lawsuit against federal health care reform, right now it appears just that. Talk.

First, the Legislature has bigger budget issues to settle, such as how to raise taxes to come  up with about $800 million to throw into the $2.8 billion gap in the general operating fund budget.

Second, two legislators who are leaders on health care issues said they are “looking at all kinds of options”, which generally means they haven’t settled on any specific option like cutting the AG’s budget.

But Sen. Karen Keiser of Des Moines and Rep. Eileen Cody of Seattle aren’t doing nothing about McKenna’s decision to join with a dozen or so other states in challenging the constitutionality of the  new law. They are…

They can sue, but can they win?

McClatchy offered this early analysis of the multistate lawsuit over health care reform:

By James Rosen
McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — The top prosecutors in 13 states — 12 of them Republicans — filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the health care bill minutes after President Barack Obama signed the landmark legislation into law.
In a suit filed in federal district court in Tallahassee, Fla., the attorneys general claimed that the new law’s requirement for all Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.
“This bipartisan effort by attorneys general around the country should put the federal government on notice that we will not tolerate the constitutional rights of our citizens and the sovereignty of our states to be trampled on,” Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said. “I will pursue this litigation to the highest court if necessary.”
Louisiana Attorney General James “Butch” Caldwell is the only Democrat joining the lawsuit. The others represent Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington state.
Virginia’s Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed a separate suit.
Several noted law professors said there are significant legal hurdles in establishing the states’ standing to challenge the health care law and in convincing federal judges that it violates the Constitution.

Go inside the blog to

Gregoire slams McKenna for joining suit against health care reform

OLYMPIA — Washington’s Republican attorney general will join other states in a lawsuit against the federal health care reform plan, a move its Democratic governor denounced as “not representing the people of this state.”

Attorney General Rob McKenna said Monday afternoon he would join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform package passed Sunday by Congress and soon to be signed by President Obama. His was a rare discordant voice as other state officials praised the legislation as good for Washington and its troubled budget.

“I believe this new federal health care measure unconstitutionally imposes new requirements on our state and on its citizens,” McKenna said in a statement released by his office about 1 p.m. “This unprecedented federal mandate, requiring all Washingtonians to purchase health insurance, violates the Commerce Clause and the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The 10th Amendment says powers not listed in the Constitution, or prohibited for the states, are left to the states and the people. That amendment is the one most often cited by proponents of greater sovereignty by the states, on everything from health care reform to gun rights to tax collection.

The bill places “an extraordinary burden” on the state budget by expanding its Medicaid eligibility standards, he said in the press release.

An hour later, a visibly irate Gov. Chris Gregoire said she “totally disagrees” with McKenna’s decision, which she didn’t know about until reading a news account. She said she then called him to discuss it.

“I don’t know who he’s representing,” Gregoire said. McKenna is not representing her, the people who will be added to the state’s Basic Health Plan because or the doctors and hospitals who will have larger Medicare reimbursement payments because of the new federal plan.

The attorney general’s office may need to assign an attorney to represent her “because I totally oppose what he’s doing.”

To read more on state officials reaction to the health care reform bill’s passage, click here go inside the blog

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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