January 26, 2010 in City

Gregoire to Congress: ‘Get it done’

Federal health reform could affect state programs
By The Spokesman-Review

On the Web: For expanded coverage of the Washington Legislature, go online to www.spokesman.com/


OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire and a phalanx of state officials who deal with health care had a message Monday for congressional Democrats who may be wavering on the issue in the wake of last week’s U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts:

“Regardless of one election, national health care reform is essential,” Gregoire said at a midmorning news conference. “Get it done.”

If Congress can’t pass a comprehensive reform package quickly, it should pass the funding changes that would send more federal money to Washington to cover Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, and give the state a waiver that would help cover the costs of state health care programs for poor children.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said that under the current systems, Washington expects to have 1 million people without health insurance by the end of 2011. Additionally, a fourth of its population is considered “underinsured.”

A report from Kreidler’s office estimates about 50,000 people in Spokane County – or 11 percent of the population – are uninsured, and the cost of covering the bills of people without insurance in Washington will top $1 billion by next year.

Gregoire urged Congress to vote on fiscal health care issues first, which take a simple majority to pass, then take up policy issues that might be more difficult with the Democrats’ loss of a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate.

Some policy issues, such as banning insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions, have broad support, she said. They should determine the issues on which they have strong agreement and try to work out compromises on the rest, she said.

Because of uncertainty over health care reimbursement and a possible economic stimulus package, Gregoire said the state could receive anywhere from $1 billion to nothing from the federal government before the Legislature adjourns on March 11. She said she has a tax package that would help replace some $780 million if federal money isn’t available, but she won’t announce it until after the next state revenue forecast in mid-February.

“I’m going to honor the request of the speaker and the majority leader that I not come out with a tax package right now,” she said.

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