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State Loses Landmark Health Plan Governor Blames Congress, Big Business As He Signs Bills

With a jab at big business and Congress, Gov. Mike Lowry on Monday pulled the plug on Washington’s health care reform law and its goal of bringing affordable health insurance to all by mid-1999.

The law, which Lowry more than once called a “model for the nation,” was the same “managed competition” plan that President Clinton failed to push through Congress last year.

Lowry signed three bills that virtually repeal the 1993 law. The new measures were passed by the Legislature after hard lobbying by business and insurance interests.

The signing ceremony was jammed by smiling representatives from companies ranging from Boeing to Aetna insurance.

Lowry said the state law was crippled by congressional refusal last year to allow Washington to install a linchpin of the law: a mandate that all employers pay half the cost of health insurance for workers by mid-1999. Without business involvement, the financing scheme was gone, and so was the main element of cost control - a uniform system whose size would act to hold down costs.

“Congress caved to big business,” Lowry said. “We wish it was different, but it isn’t.”

Lowry said powerful business and Republican House opposition convinced him to fight for what he could get - expansion of the state’s subsidized health insurance for the working poor and preservation of rules barring insurance companies from denying coverage due to preexisting conditions.

The provisions “significantly improve the health care of the people of this state,” Lowry declared.


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