State Senate passes bill revamping Basic Health

The Olympian


OLYMPIA, WA-- The state Senate passed a bill Friday to make the Basic Health Plan even more basic.
Basic Health provides subsidized health care coverage to about 125,000 poor people who can't afford health insurance on the private market. The program cost the state about $240 million last year.

With the state facing a massive budget crisis and health care costs increasing rapidly, Gov. Gary Locke has proposed cutting about 60,000 childless adults from the Basic Health Plan to save money.

How they voted

The Senate approved a measure to revamp the Basic Health Plan on a 33-16 vote Friday. Voting yes were 25 Republicans and 8 Democrats. Voting no were 16 Democrats.

- Voting yes: Dan Swecker, R-Rochester; James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam; Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

- Voting no: Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.

Hoping to avoid such wholesale cuts, Rep. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, introduced a bill that dramatically

revamps the way Basic Health works. Senate Bill 5807 would reduce eligibility and benefits, and ask people to pay more in premiums and co-payments.

It passed 33-16, and now goes to the state House, where lawmakers have also been working on ways to revamp Basic Health.

"We have to do something," Parlette told the Senate on Friday. "It seems more compassionate to insure the neediest and make that be a priority."

Parlette's bill would reduce the income limit for Basic Health from 250 percent of the federal poverty level to 200 percent, and it could go even lower if the Legislature decides that's necessary to balance the budget. For a family of four, the federal poverty level is $18,400; 250 percent of that is $46,000, and 200 percent of the poverty level is $36,800.

Parlette said that everyone she talked to agreed that limiting enrollment by income level was a better idea than knocking all childless adults off the program.

Her bill also would allow the Legislature to set premiums, co-payments and deductibles during the budget process. People on Basic Health would still be able to get preventative care without having to pay.

It's not clear how many people would be able to stay on the Basic Health Plan under Parlette's bill. The biggest change it makes is giving legislative budget writers much more say over the enrollment, premiums and benefits.

"We have to face the music and live within our means," Parlette said.

Some legislators feared the bill left too many health policy decisions in the hands of bean counters and budget writers.

"These are the working poor," said Sen. Pat Thibaudeau, D-Seattle, who voted against the bill. "I believe maintaining enrollment in the Basic Health Plan is critical to the working poor of our state."

Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, said that people who lose their Basic Health coverage will end up uninsured, clogging the state's hospital emergency rooms because they don't have anywhere else to go for health care.

Parlette's bill would also limit new Basic Health enrollment to U.S. citizens or legal residents. That would be a blow to many immigrants in Washington who are currently eligible. In last year's budget, the state kicked 30,000 immigrants, some of them illegal, off Medicaid to save money, but promised those families they could move to the Basic Health Plan. As of last October, only 39 percent of those immigrants had signed up for Basic Health.

Parlette said the state has to prioritize. "It comes down to, do you think it's right to remove a citizen over someone who's not a citizen?" Parlette said. "There are other safety nets out there."


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