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Washington applies for money under health overhaul law

Mon., March 29, 2010, 5:47 p.m.

$180 billion would help Basic Health Plan through 2014

OLYMPIA – Washington state may be first in line for one aspect of the new federal health care reform law — submitting a request for some $180 million in federal money to help pay for the state’s Basic Health Plan.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell joined several state officials Monday in hailing the new law, and saying they’ve already sent in a request for what’s known as “bridge funding.” That provision allows a state to request money through 2014 to help cover the costs of health insurance for residents who make too much to receive Medicaid but can’t afford private plans.

Washington has about 65,000 people on its Basic Health Plan who state officials believe should be covered by a waiver. If the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, the federal government could pay for two-thirds of their insurance costs, up to $180 million a year through 2014. That would ease the state’s budget problems and allow the state to expand the program.

“We want to be at the head of the line,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said. State officials believe they are the first to seek the waiver, which isn’t even available until April 1, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was not able to confirm that Monday.

While Gregoire is seeking the waiver, Attorney General Rob McKenna is challenging aspects of health care reform. Last week he joined 12 other attorneys general in a lawsuit over the requirement that all individuals buy health insurance by 2014 and for provisions that would raise the cost of Medicaid later this decade.

McKenna said Monday that if the state receives the waiver and gets federal money for Basic Health, it won’t block Washington from arguing that other sections of the new law are unconstitutional. If the federal courts rule the individual insurance mandate and the Medicaid increases are unconstitutional, other provisions, including the bridge funding, the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or extending coverage to young adults on their parents’ plans would remain in place, he said.

Even though the provisions in the lawsuit don’t take effect for years, “these are important questions to challenge now,” McKenna said.

Gregoire disagrees with McKenna’s decision to join the lawsuit and Monday repeated her belief that it has no merit. States can opt out of Medicaid, she said, if they’re willing to give up the federal money.

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