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With GOP plan dead, Washington Democrats call for bipartisan health care bill

Maria Cantwell meets with local political and healthcare leaders, Feb. 22, 2017, at the CHAS Denny Murphy clinic in Spokane. On Tuesday, Cantwell said Senate Republicans should work with Democrats to increase ways for states to develop a health insurance plan for their residents that would reduce costs and cover more people. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Maria Cantwell meets with local political and healthcare leaders, Feb. 22, 2017, at the CHAS Denny Murphy clinic in Spokane. On Tuesday, Cantwell said Senate Republicans should work with Democrats to increase ways for states to develop a health insurance plan for their residents that would reduce costs and cover more people. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

With the attempt to replace Obamacare apparently dead, Senate Republicans should work with Democrats to increase ways for states to develop a health insurance plan for their residents that would reduce costs and cover more people, Sen. Maria Cantwell said.

Congress should make it easier for states to offer a “basic health plan” similar to what New York and Minnesota have developed, said Cantwell, D-Wash. It allows people who don’t have insurance through work or another organization to be in a statewide pool rather than buying individual plans.

“New York is getting a very cost effective system,” she said. “It’s worked.”

Cantwell and her Democratic seatmate Patty Murray both called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to use a more bipartisan process after it became clear late Monday the GOP-developed plan didn’t have enough votes to pass.

That would include hearings, the regular process most legislation follows and public input in an effort “that would actually improve health care, not make it worse, Murray said in an email. Things Democrats have offered to work with Republicans include stabilizing insurance markets, allowing seniors who don’t yet qualify for Medicare to buy into the program and reducing the high cost of pharmaceuticals, she said.

Things were happening so quickly on health care legislation that it wasn’t clear what the next step was, Cantwell said. There were reports Tuesday afternoon that McConnell would schedule a vote on a straight repeal of Obamacare, but that, too, might not have enough votes to pass.

There could be enough Republicans who would be willing to join with Democrats for changes to the current system, like a basic health plan, she said. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and others have talked of finding a way to put people who buy individual plans into a “larger bucket” to bring down costs.

Democrats and Republicans both want to find cost savings, she said. But they should not included a provision that was added to the latest version of the Senate reform bill, which would allow insurance companies to offer “junk plans”, stripped-down policies that don’t cover many essentials, she added.

Having already voted for the House Republican version of health care reform, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers wants the Senate to take action to fix what she views as “our nation’s broken and failing health care system,” her spokesman Jared Powell said in an email.

The Spokane Republican wants the Senate to work through its process to repeal and replace Obamacare and “she’s not currently speculating on next steps until we see what happens with the Senate,” he said.

But since the House passed its version in May, McMorris Rodgers has voted on several changes to health care laws, Powell said, including changes to medical liability laws, allowing small businesses to join together in association health plans, removing exemptions the insurance industry have from antitrust and unfair trade practice laws, and expanding premium assistance tax credits to certain veterans.

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