It’s not much fun being Denny Dellwo these days.
The Spokane Democrat ran the health care reform debate in the House for the past two years. But now, Dellwo’s on the bench with the other House Democrats, watching the GOP majority shred his work.
The insurance and health care lobbyists don’t come around much any more. They’ve got better things to do, like lobby Republican lawmakers for passage of a bill introduced Monday that deletes nearly everything in the 1993 reform act.
“I spent two years giving birth to this, and they are killing my baby, shoving it under the water in the bathtub,” Dellwo said.
A primary author of the state’s reform law, Dellwo now is forced to negotiate the scope of its demise.
“I’m crying on one side, seeing my birth child hurt, then on the other side, trying to negotiate how they can hurt it less.
“To see these lobbyists who were my fierce opponents just grinning - I’m feeling torn between the personal hurt and pain and feeling of betrayal and recognizing that as a legislator, as a lawyer, I’ve got to do what I’m good at, which is sit down and negotiate with them.”
Common ground will be hard to find.
“The difficulty is the perception many of the new legislators have that they were swept into power to throw out health care reform, to take apart what took years of dedicated service to put together,” Dellwo said.
The Republican bill, HB1046, retains insurance reforms that allow workers to take their benefits from job to job, limits the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions and expands the state’s Basic Health plan for low-income people.
The plan also would allow people to use medical savings accounts to pay for their health care benefits.
All of those measures already are in place or allowed under existing policy. “It’s basically the status quo,” Dellwo said.
But the bill also includes repeal clauses - more than 71 of them - that unravel most of the reform act.
They repeal the commitment to universal coverage, eliminate the cap on insurance rates, delete the requirement that employers provide insurance for their workers, get rid of the Health Services Commission and eliminate the requirement for a uniform minimum benefits package.
The bill also would kill community rating, under which the cost of insurance is spread between low- and high-risk customers.
“This bill is a Christmas tree for the insurance industry,” said Sen. Kevin Quigley, D-Lake Stevens, chairman of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee.
“The Republican plan does little more than protect entrenched interests of the insurance companies and big business at the expense of consumers,” Dellwo said. “It’s clear where the true concerns of the Republicans lie: with the insurance business, not with the people of the state of Washington.”
Rep. Phil Dyer, R-Issaquah, sponsor of the bill and the new chairman of the House Health Care Committee, doesn’t see it that way.
The bill is part of a seven-part legislative package he said will assure everyone who wants health care coverage can get it, “without creating a government-run health care bureaucracy.
“We are going back to a simplified, responsible and more effective approach to health care reform,” Dyer said in a prepared statement.
GOP leaders say they aren’t committed to providing universal coverage.
“I don’t see how you do it,” said House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-Wenatchee. “I don’t think it’s financially possible.”
Gov. Mike Lowry promises to fight any bill that falls short of health coverage for all. Republicans saw that coming: They included a referendum clause in their bill that would send it to the ballot, skipping the governor’s desk completely.
But for all their enthusiasm, Dellwo knows from experience how hard it will be for his GOP counterparts to get everything they want.
“I remember when we started on health care reform two years ago and we had a giant majority, we had the governor, the Senate, we thought we could do everything. It was exhilarating.
“But it was hard. They are in the same place now, and the same thing will happen to them.”
If anything it will be harder for the GOP: They control only the House. “They need to remember how a bill
becomes a law,” Quigley said. “That bill still has to pass the Senate. And the governor represents the state. He deserves to be at the table.
“We’re not passing a referendum clause unless they negotiate in good faith. So far they have totally misrepresented this as a bipartisan bill when they haven’t even discussed it with me. It’s like, let’s roll out the big lie.”
For Republicans and Democrats both, the job ahead is compromise.
“It’s a personal loss but I have to rise above it,” Dellwo said. “Realize, hey, life goes on.”