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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Laws ready state for health plan

Washington ‘can’t sit back and wait’ for reforms

OLYMPIA – Washington will stay in the forefront of federal health care reform, and could save as much as $26 billion over the next decade, with a half-dozen bills signed into law Wednesday.

Even though the federal health care reforms are being challenged in court and by critics in Congress, Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state officials said the new state laws are needed now. They also make Washington eligible for federal funds while giving the state the chance to re-shape health care to fit its needs.

“We can’t sit back and wait,” State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said. “Doing nothing means the feds are going to take over.”

Among the new laws are a ban on refusing coverage to anyone under 19 because of a pre-existing condition; increased access for consumers to information insurance companies submit to justify rate increases; a system that will try to identify overused and misused services and encourage consumers to use better and cheaper services; and a health insurance exchange, which would help small companies find cheaper medical coverage available to large employers.

“The beauty of the exchange is not so much lowering the cost of total care but lowering the cost of access,” state Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, said. “Even those of us that don’t like the individual mandate (to have health insurance) like the exchange.”

Gregoire said the new laws could cut in half – from 8 percent to 4 percent – the projected annual increase in health care costs to businesses, families and government.