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House Panel Oks Referendum On Health Care Reform But Rough Road Expected For Bill In Democrat-Controlled Senate

Sun., Feb. 5, 1995

Voters would be asked in November to repeal most of the state’s landmark health care overhaul law under a bill that cleared a House panel Friday.

The measure was approved amid charges that the Republican majority was trying to trick voters.

The House Health Care Committee action came the same day Gov. Mike Lowry signed his first legislation of the session - a measure that delays key elements of the 1993 health reform law to give lawmakers more time to work out kinks.

But House Republicans want much more - a public vote on whether most of the law should be repealed. Their bill, HB1046, is expected to sail through the House but faces a tough road in the Democratic Senate, leaders there said.

A Democrat on the House Health Care Committee, Rep. Betty Sue Morris of Vancouver, managed to embarrass the GOP majority before passage of the bill by forcing it to publicly reject the idea of including in the referendum a repeal of cigarette, liquor and beer taxes set to phase in over the next several years.

The taxes were passed in 1993 along with the health care overhaul law to fund the law’s many elements. The Republicans fear that a proposed repeal of “sin taxes” would give foes of the referendum a powerful weapon to argue against passage.

House Health Care Chairman Phil Dyer, R-Issaquah, won passage of the measure on a party line vote of 7-4 after arguing that the public does not like the Health Care Services Act of 1993 because the government intrudes too deeply into health care.”The majority of the people in our state believe that the current law isn’t the best answer for health-care reform, and we want to give them the opportunity to have a direct say on such an important issue,” Dyer said.

Dyer readily acknowledged that a big reason for the referendum is based on the belief that Gov. Mike Lowry would veto a virtual repeal of the law while he cannot touch a referendum measure.

But the panel’s ranking minority member, Rep. Dennis Dellwo, D-Spokane, accused the Republicans of using the referendum process to sneak something by voters - repeal of health care reform disguised as “improving the law.”

He noted that the bill preserves a few popular elements of the law. He contended the public would “see only those things,” and miss “the real idea, which is to repeal health care reform.”

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