The Senate on Friday approved a plan to relax the state’s regulatory hold on health insurers after backers agreed to changes they hope will get the bill past Gov. Gary Locke.
The amended House measure, strongly lobbied by the insurance industry and fought by consumer advocates, still drew heat from Senate Democrats, who said it would gut health care reforms passed in 1993 and leave sick people and working families without affordable health care.
Republican backers said it would free the health insurance industry to grow and compete, thus driving down costs for consumers.
“There’s some things that we like in the bill, and some things that we don’t, and we’re going to have to take a good look at it,” said Locke’s press secretary, Marylou Flynn. “We can see, though, that they made some good changes.”
A leading critic of the legislation, Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, disagreed.
“It’s still a bad deal,” she said. “It still guarantees rate increases and it still impedes access to affordable health care insurance.”
Senn said insurance lobbyists have been “really pushing hard on the governor, and we’ll be talking to him, too, to see if we can get a veto.”
The Senate voted 30-19 to send the bill back to the House for expected concurrence.
The bill, HB2018, repeals the requirement that any insurance company at any time sign up anybody willing to pay the going premium rate. Under the bill, consumers would be able to sign up only in July and August of each year.
Before amendment, the bill would have allowed sign-ups only in July.
In another concession, Senate backers struck from the House version language that would have stripped Senn of her power to regulate managed-care health providers.
The measure also guarantees rate increases and profits for health carriers by putting into statute unacceptable loss ratios that would trigger higher rates.
Even with the changes, most Democrats in the Republican-led chamber were unhappy.
“This bill is a sellout. This bill guts the insurance reforms we passed in 1993,” said Sen. Lorraine Wojahn, D-Tacoma. She said the reforms opened doctors’ offices and hospitals to thousands of people “who once had been frozen out because they couldn’t get insurance.”