Repeal of most of the state’s landmark health care reform law would be put to voters in November under a bill that cleared the Republican House on Monday.
Passage came after 90 minutes of debate in which backers said the public had made it clear during last year’s campaigns that it has lost its stomach for the broad overhaul of the health care system.
The bill contains a referendum clause, which means it can go straight to voters. Gov. Mike Lowry, who opposes the bill, cannot veto it.
All Spokane-area Republicans voted for the bill. All Spokane-area Democrats voted against it.
Proponents of repeal said the health care system is shifting with market forces. They said it can heal itself with a little help from the state, not with “socialized medicine,” as some called it.
But foes of repeal contended that the 1993 law, the goal of which is affordable health care insurance for all by mid-1999, already is serving to hold down health care inflation and that repeal would reverse the trend.
They said repeal would return health care to the insurance industry, which has proved it cannot handle the job.
The measure’s outlook in the Senate is uncertain at best. The head of the Senate Health Care Committee said flatly that the proposal would not get out of his committee in its current form. But the thin majority of Democrats in the Senate is not of one mind on the issue.
House Health Committee Chairman Phil Dyer, R-Issaquah, said the measure preserves worthy parts of the massive law, such as expanding the state’s 7-yearold program to subsidize health insurance for the working poor and putting into law regulations that ban insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing medical conditions.
“Health care reform is a continuing process … and a labor of love for me,” Dyer said.
But Rep. Dennis Dellwo, D-Spokane, who helped write the law when Democrats ruled the House, said the new measure “is simple. It repeals health care reform - make no bones about it.”
Dellwo said the new measure does nothing to hold down health care costs and repeals 72 different provisions of the law, including the commission charged with phasing in the law as well as a cap on insurance company premium increases.
He said the elements preserved by the House bill “are things everybody is for and we’re doing anyway.”
House Minority Leader Brian Ebersole, D-Tacoma, predicted that in two years, health care costs would spiral if the repeal becomes law.
But Dyer and others said government intervention is becoming irrelevant as the insurance and medical industries themselves move to contain costs through the same managed care system mandated by the law.
The problem, backers of the repeal said, is the bureaucracy imposed on a system that mostly can fix itself. “This is good medicine for our health care delivery system, a health care bureaucracy,” said Rep. Bill Backlund, R-Redmond, a physician.
“If we pass this bill, the people of Washington state should sue us for medical malpractice,” responded Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle.
All sides of the debate agree that the reform law already is crippled by congressional inaction. Last year’s Congress failed to give the state permission to require employers to pay for at least part of the health insurance of workers, a central component of the law.
The law is very similar to President Clinton’s failed proposal to overhaul the nation’s health care system.