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Insurance Regulation On Agenda Gop Wants To Loosen Rules On Health-Care Coverage

Associated Press

A draft Republican measure to greatly loosen state control of the health-insurance market drew praise Thursday from the industry and attacks from critics who said it would badly hurt consumers.

The proposal being put together by Rep. Phil Dyer, R-Issaquah, would eliminate or greatly alter the surviving elements of the 1993 law that overhauled the state’s health care system. The law was largely repealed in 1995.

Dyer is an executive in a medical malpractice insurance company and chairman of the House Health Care Committee. His plan is considered a good bet for passage by the GOP-led Legislature, but faces uncertain prospects with Democratic Gov. Gary Locke.

As it now stands, the draft measure would:

Lengthen the three-month waiting period for existing-condition coverage to a maximum of 14 months, and revoke the current guarantee that anyone at any time can sign up for the health insurance of his or her choice. Instead, applicants could sign up only in July unless they already are enrolled in a plan and shifting to another.

Allow insurers to drop a plan or any “products” of a plan, such as maternity care, after 90 days notice to enrollees that they must find another insurer.

Allow the industry to set its own standards under which managed care plans can decide the type and level of care a patient should receive for a particular malady.

Guarantee rate increases and profits for health carriers by putting into statute unacceptable loss ratios that would trigger higher rates.

Insurers from Blue Cross to Group Health, and business representatives from Boeing to the National Federation of Small Business, defended the plan as good medicine for both insurers and consumers.

But critics, who include Sue Crystal, head of the state Health Care Policy Board, Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, and Ele Hamburger of Washington Citizen Action, contend the measure’s overall approach tilts too far to favor insurers at the expense of consumers and health care providers.

Principal power

School principals should have more power and flexibility as they attempt to meet rigorous new academic standards, say Republican lawmakers in both chambers.

A GOP proposal would give principals the authority to develop a school-wide reform plan and then ask the local school board to waive state rules and regulations that stand in the way. Currently, such waivers may be granted only by state officials in Olympia.

The House Education Committee narrowly approved such a bill Thursday over the objection of Democrats who said it is too sweeping and permits too much local discretion. The measure, HB1303, now moves toward a vote by the full House.

A similar bill, SB5300, also has received a mixed reaction in the Senate Education Committee. Most of the education community, including principals, administrators and school boards, like the approach, saying they are directly accountable to local voters and wouldn’t dare abuse the additional power.

The Washington Education Association, the teachers’ union, opposes the idea, fearing it would dilute collective-bargaining rights and important state standards and rules.

Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, has not expressed a position. The new state school superintendent, Terry Bergeson, has endorsed the intent of the bill, saying it fits in with her efforts to eliminate some of the thousands of state mandates and regulations.

House backers of the “Principal Power” bill promote it as a sort of second-generation education-reform effort.

Prison art

The Legislature is considering dropping the requirement that the state buy artwork for new prisons.

Under state law, one-half of 1 percent of the cost of new state construction is to be spent on art. In 1995, the Legislature temporarily exempted new prisons.

That moratorium expires in a few months, but House Bill 1280, sponsored by Rep. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, would make it permanent. By not buying art, the state estimates it will save $431,000 on the 1,936-bed prison that is be built this year in Grays Harbor County.

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