A compromise rewrite of the state’s health reform act now in the talking stages represents the best chance yet for salvaging reform this session, Gov. Mike Lowry said Tuesday.
The legislation isn’t on paper yet, but has caught the interest of major players, including Lowry and legislative leaders in both houses.
“It’s a whole lot better than nothing, which is what we were looking at,” said Sen. Kevin Quigley, D-Lake Stevens, chairman of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee.
“I’m very interested in it,” Lowry said of the compromise.
“This is something that could be worked into a grand compromise that keeps health care reform moving.”
The proposal would rewrite the 1993 act to regulate the way health insurance is provided to employers of 50 or fewer people and to individuals.
The Legislature is reworking the act because waivers needed from Congress to implement it aren’t expected to be granted.
The proposal under discussion would not include premium caps or a mandate that employers provide insurance to employees, two of the most controversial elements of health reform.
It could increase access to health care for hundreds of thousands of people by making benefits more affordable for small employers and individuals, Lowry said.
That’s because risk would be pooled under a community-rated system, which reduces the degree to which older and sicker customers pay more for benefits than young, healthy people.
The proposal also may require insurance companies to sell a basic benefit package similar to the Washington Basic Health plan, to help consumers compare plans.
People who want to purchase a leaner package may be allowed to.
The compromise also would incorporate insurance reforms enacted last year.
Those prohibit exclusions for preexisting medical conditions, and require portability of benefits from job to job.
“That gets a lot more people covered,” Lowry said.
“We want to come as close as possible to covering everyone in the state, because that’s how you get cost containment.”
Hospitals shift the cost of caring for people without insurance to those who do, driving up costs for everyone.
Sue Crystal, the governor’s health care policy adviser, said about 40 states have adopted so-called small group insurance reforms similar to the compromise proposal.
Lowry said he wants a health care compromise this session.
He is concerned repealing the 1993 act, as one House bill would do, would set back the cause for reform nationally.
“Then we go back to 15 percent premium increases,” he said.
“There is a reason why people wanted health care reform. It’s because they couldn’t afford health care insurance, or they couldn’t get it.”