OLYMPIA – Jaydra Cope, of Spokane, sat patiently through a legislative hearing Monday on federal health care reform as Republicans and Democrats sparred over sections of the law and as insurance companies differed over whether a bill should be changed.
The Eastern Washington University social work student hoped to deliver a much simpler message to the committee than the intricacies of health care exchanges or the differences between bronze, silver or gold plans. If there was time.
“People are dying,” Cope said outside the hearing room. Her brother was one of them.
The 30-year-old mother made the trip to Olympia to explain how her brother Delton, a Spokane restaurant worker, made too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford medical insurance. He started having chest pains, and worried he was having a heart attack, but his friends and co-workers doubted it. He was, after all, only 23.
But Delton had an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, a bifurcated valve. He didn’t know it, but the lining of his heart was filling with fluid. After trying for weeks to get a “charity” appointment at a clinic, he finally scheduled one with a private doctor. He died in his apartment the day before the appointment, when pressure caused his aorta to rupture.
Cope’s testimony would put a personal face on what was mostly technical testimony the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee received on proposed changes on the state’s efforts to prepare for the federal Affordable Care Act. The state has the option of setting up a health care exchange, or letting the federal government do it. Recently the House passed, primarily on a party-line vote, a bill that would require basic plans in Washington state to cover more services than the minimums required by the federal government.
The hearing drew an overflow crowd, including about 55 from Spokane, and Chairwoman Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said she wanted to set aside as much of an hourlong hearing for as many people as possible to testify. But before that happened, Democrats and Republicans began debating whether the bill is even needed. The Legislature passed a bill last year to begin setting up a health care exchange, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said: “Why do we need another bill?”
When lobbyists for some of the state’s largest insurance companies sat down to testify against the bill, Keiser asked if it was true they’d told her House counterpart last week that they wouldn’t even discuss changes. Well, sort of, said one, but only in the sense that they couldn’t discuss them without other people involved.
“Bring the ideas out and we’ll rassle with them,” promised Mel Sorensen, a lobbyist for the insurance industry.
Not much time to rassle, committee members said. “We need the solutions within the next three weeks,” Sen. Steve Conway, D-South Tacoma said, noting time is running out on the 60-day session.
Time was also running out for the hearing, and remaining witnesses were limited to two minutes each. Spokane supporters thought Cope wouldn’t make it, but when Keiser called the last panel, hers was the final name.
Her prepared speech was longer than two minutes, but she condensed it to fit the time limit and urged them to do whatever is necessary to expand health care for the working poor. “Please do what is right,” she urged the committee, trying, but failing, to hold back tears.
After the hearing, Cope said it was “absolutely” worth a 600-mile round trip for two minutes of the committee’s time. “If telling the story of my brother saves even one person, it’s worth it.”
The committee will vote on the health care exchange bill in the coming week. If it passes the Senate with changes, the bill must go back to the House for another vote before the session ends.