New bill looks to clear path for state universal health care

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state’s road to universal health care continues, following the introduction of a bill in the state Legislature that would establish a fact-finding group.

If passed, SB-5822 would establish a "work group," comprised of "a broad range of stakeholders with expertise in the health care financing and delivery system."

That would include businesses with experience in group insurance models, health care providers and facilities, state agencies, and consumers.

The group would be tasked to “study and make recommendations to the Legislature on a universal health care system, that includes publicly funded, privately delivered health care that is sustainable and affordable to all Washington residents.”

The bill cites data claiming that as of 2017, 400,000 Washington residents remained uninsured due to growing health care costs.

“Health care is a human right and it is in the public interest that all residents have access to health care, that improves health outcomes, contains health care costs for the state and its residents, and reduces health disparities,” it reads.

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The group would be required to present its findings and recommendations to the Legislature by Nov. 15, 2020. The bill is scheduled for public hearing in the Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care on Feb. 18, at 8 a.m.

The push for universal health care continues
This comes not long after a bill introduced by State Senator Bob Hasegawa in early-February, that would create something called the Whole Washington Health Trust.

It would be run by a nine-member board of trustees appointed by the governor. According to Hasegawa, the bill requires that the trust provide “minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act.” Residents with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level would not be subject to any premiums, which would not be more than $200 a month.

Hasegawa is also listed as one of the co-sponsors on this latest health care bill.

Gov. Jay Inslee also introduced his own version of a universal health care plan in January, called Cascade Care. According to the governor, a proposed Cascade Care bill would direct the state’s health care authority to provide coverage across Washington, by contracting with one or more health care carriers.

That coverage would be available to anyone in the individual market. It would also set reimbursement rates consistent with Medicare. The service would be voluntary, and patients would spend no more than 10 percent of their annual income on premiums.

Sen. Hasegawa has previously expressed that he doesn’t believe Inslee’s proposal goes far enough, claiming it’s more an incremental step toward universal health care than a full-on solution.