House approves new plan for health insurance

March 9, 2019

OLYMPIA – A proposal that supporters say would provide affordable health insurance to people who can’t afford it and opponents call a step toward “socialized medicine” passed the House on Friday.

The bill would require the state’s Health Benefit Exchange, along with the insurance commissioner and the Health Care Authority, to set up medical plans by 2021 with insurance companies that offer other qualified plans in the state. Those plans would be available to individuals with incomes up to five times of the poverty level who don’t have health insurance from their employer.

The premiums for the plans couldn’t cost the purchasers more than 10 percent of their modified adjusted gross incomes, and reimbursement to doctors and other health care providers under the plans would be equal to Medicare rates.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, said it would provide health care coverage to a segment of the public that is slightly above the income restrictions for current government-assisted programs but still can’t afford insurance. Some liberals who want a single-payer health care system won’t like it, she said, while some conservatives won’t like it either, saying it is too much like a government-run system.

“This is an illusion of care,” said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, who argued reimbursing doctors with Medicare rates will mean some doctors won’t accept those patients. “Just because you have insurance doesn’t mean you can find a provider.”

Others argued doctors and hospitals will adjust their prices to other patients to make up for the lower reimbursement from the new Exchange plans, and the rest of the public will see higher costs.

“This bill is the train wreck that comes first, and then there’s socialized medicine,” Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said.

The bill was one of a series of proposals involving health approved by the House on Friday.

Among other, less-controversial bills sent to the Senate were new rules for greater transparency in prescription drug prices, requiring health insurance companies to post notice if their behavioral health provider is not taking new patients, and advance notice of changes that would result from mergers or acquisitions of a hospital or health care provider organization.

The House also approved a ban on tattoos on the sclera, or white part of the eye.