March 23, 2012

Health care exchange signed into law

 
Jim Camden photo

OLYMPIA — “It’s a law,” Gov. Chris Gregoire proclaims after signing the Heath Insurance Exchange legislation on March 23 at the Group Healthl Clinic in Olympia.
(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire and other Democratic officials marked Friday’s second anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act – which Republicans prefer to call Obamacare – with a signing ceremony of their own.

Gregoire signed legislation to help set up health insurance exchanges in Washington, a system that would help individuals and small businesses shop for medical plans by 2014.

“The current (health care system) groans under its own weight,” Gregoire said at the signing ceremony. “We cannot afford health care today in America.”

Republicans in the Legislature argued unsuccessfully the bill was premature, because the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide if the entire Affordable Care Act is constitutional, and too far-reaching, because it requires more of insurance companies than the federal law.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Eastern Washington, who with fellow congressional Republicans marked the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act earlier this week by passing a bill calling for its repeal, said Friday the state should have held off on its health exchange legislation.

“There are still a lot of questions at the federal level,” McMorris Rodgers said, because the Department of Health and Human Services has missed deadlines for announcing rules. “I would’ve advised them to wait until there’s some clarity.”

In Spokane, critics of the national health plan demonstrated outside the federal courthouse Friday, calling for its repeal.

The state exchange doesn’t go into effect until 2014, but state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said the state will need much of that time to set it up properly: “If we slow down and wait because of the uncertainty, we won’t meet the time limits.”

Gregoire said she’s optimistic the Supreme Court will rule the federal law is constitutional. But even if it rejects the entire law, Washington should still keep its health insurance exchange, she said: “We’re going forward. We can’t afford the current system.”

A health exchange has been likened to websites like Expedia or Orbitz. Instead of helping an individual or small business find the best deal on airfare or hotels, however, it help them compare prices for different levels of insurance from different companies.

The Washington law has some of the strongest language in the country to keep insurance companies from “cherry picking,” which Kreidler said is the practice of offering limited, inexpensive insurance policies to attract individuals who are good risks because they’re relatively young and healthy, while leaving older individuals with plans that are more expensive.


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