A Republican proposal to free insurers from rules intended to improve access to health care cleared a key Senate committee Tuesday as Democratic foes looked to the governor to kill the measure.
The Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee approved House Bill 2018 by a party-line vote of 4-3.
Among other things, the bill would require uninsured people to wait up to 11 months to get affordable health insurance and would allow insurers to drop any plan or plan “product,” such as pediatric coverage, with 90 days’ notice.
“This bill stacks the deck against health care consumers in favor of insurance companies,” said Sen. Lorraine Wojahn, D-Tacoma, the panel’s ranking minority member. “This guts the last of the health care reforms we’ve had since 1993.”
Committee Chairman Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, said the measure is sorely needed to breathe life into the health insurance market, which has struggled to make a profit in a thicket of regulations. Deccio, a retired insurance salesman, said he had never seen the market in such turmoil and blamed an “adverse climate” caused by too many regulations.
The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to pass the measure after expected approval by the Senate budget panel.
Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, a nurse and leading critic of the measure, said opponents are counting on Gov. Gary Locke, a fellow Democrat, to veto the measure. His chief lobbyist, Marty Brown, said the governor does not favor legislation that might reduce access to affordable health care.
In one concession to the Democrats, Deccio and other Republicans agreed to amend the bill to include a requirement that insurers offer maternity coverage. But Cody said the amendment probably won’t survive in negotiations with the House, where the bill originated.
Major elements of the bill include:
Abolishing the current guarantee that anyone at any time can sign up for the health insurance of his or her choice and wait just three months for treatment of an existing condition. Instead, applicants could sign up only in July unless they already are enrolled in a plan and are shifting to another.
Allowing insurers to drop a plan or any products of a plan after 90 days’ notice to enrollees that they must find another insurer.
Guaranteeing rate increases and profits for health carriers by putting into statute unacceptable loss ratios that would trigger higher rates.
Stripping the insurance commissioner of the power to regulate managed-care providers and hand the power over to the state Health Care Authority. The power would be returned to the insurance commissioner in 2001. Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn has been at odds with the GOP and insurers over what they contend is heavy-handed regulation.
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