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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Loss of Obamacare could affect 750,000 Washington residents

In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, the website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

OLYMPIA – Repealing all aspects of Obamacare, and the federal money that came with it, could take away health coverage from about 750,000 Washington residents and throw the insurance market into chaos, state officials said Wednesday.

“It depends on how rash (members of Congress) are,” said Bob Crittenden, senior special assistant for health reform to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Like many states, Washington accepted federal money to expand access to Medicaid under the law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act. That amounted to $2.7 billion last year and will total an estimated $3 billion this year.

If Congress were to repeal the law and funding immediately, without a replacement plan in place, that would take away the expansion of health care coverage in the state since 2013.

In a letter to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers last month, Inslee and Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said the state has an extra 750,000 people with health coverage because of the law, and the uninsured rate is down to 5.8 percent from 14 percent before the law went into effect. Increased health care spending has helped add 51,000 health-related jobs to the state economy, they added.

Some 20,000 people on plans available through the Affordable Care Act have been treated for cancer since 2014, Crittenden noted.

If Congress decides to keep Obamacare, and the federal money needed to pay for it, until it develops a replacement with some of the more popular features of the law, there wouldn’t be such a dramatic effect on residents or the economy, he said.

But that would be difficult because one of the more popular aspects of the law is a requirement that people must be covered despite pre-existing medical conditions. One of the least popular aspects is the mechanism to pay for that guaranteed coverage – the mandate for people to have insurance.

Washington tried a system in the 1990s that guaranteed access without a corresponding requirement to buy insurance and it was unworkable; insurance companies pulled out of the state, Crittenden said.

Jim Camden