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Senate Democrats vote to make ACA consumer protections state law

UPDATED: Wed., March 27, 2019

The Washington Capitol, where the Legislature is nearly three-quarters of the way through its 2019 session. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
The Washington Capitol, where the Legislature is nearly three-quarters of the way through its 2019 session. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

With the Trump administration refusing to defend the Affordable Care Act in federal court, state Senate Democrats moved Wednesday to guarantee that some protections would be required in Washington.

On a partisan vote, the Senate approved a bill that requires medical insurance plans in Washington to offer policies that cover pre-existing conditions, offer essential benefits, limit out-of-pocket expenses a person who is covered must pay, and prohibit discrimination and limits on annual or lifetime dollar benefits.

Democrats said the bill was a way to assure Washington residents that they won’t lose improvements in medical coverage as Congress and the administration continue the struggle over health care.

“It provides a guarantee to citizens of our state that no matter what happens on the federal level, we will not roll back coverage,” said Senate Health Care Committee Chairwoman Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.

Some Republicans argued that while the Affordable Care Act did some good things for health care, such as covering pre-existing conditions and ending limits on benefits, the law isn’t perfect. Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said Washington was right to expand Medicaid to cover more people, which states could opt to do under that law.

“I don’t want to create laws in Washington based on fear of failure,” Becker said. “We should look at things to improve in the Affordable Care Act. This system is not perfect.”

Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, suggested Becker let President Donald Trump know she thought expanding Medicaid was the right thing to do. The bill was an important message to Trump, “who’s trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

But Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said Washington has long been a national leader in innovative health care and that would continue without the bill. “It just feels to me as if (the bill) is another stab at the president,” she said.

Other Republicans were more critical of problems in the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, a vocal supporter of the president, said the law was responsible for two of the “greatest lies ever told”: It would allow people to keep their health care if they liked it, and it would lead to premiums going down.

“The Affordable Care Act was always intended to be a bridge to socialized health care,” Ericksen contended. Passing the bill would mean Washington was supporting “a failed system.”

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said the bill wasn’t an endorsement of everything in the federal law but a way to keep some of the most important consumer protections no matter what happens in the courts and Congress. The bill passed on a party-line vote and was sent back to the House because the Senate added an emergency clause that would require it to take effect immediately.

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