Health Care Measures Pass WA House and Senate

April 13, 2007 ( - The Washington state House and Senate have each approved health care legislation aimed at establishing universal health care.

The Associated Press reports that the bill passed in the state house is based on recommendations issued byGovernor Chris Gregoire’sBlue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Costs and Access (See Washington Governor Calls for Universal Health Care ). Suggestions by the commission included reorganizing the insurance market so it is more accessible, using possible state subsidies and pools of insured to win better rates, and improving health care coverage through a partnership with the federal government.

In addition, the omnibus bill would encourage the state to pay for effective health care practices, start health promotion programs for state employees and allow online access to the University of Washington Health Science Library, the news report said.

A smaller measure, passed in the state senate, calls for remodeling the current small employer health insurance partnership into a pilot program that could expand into a larger health insurance “pool,” according to the AP. A state board would act as the “connector” between people and insurers.

The house would have to agree on Senate changes to the bill before it is sent to the governor. Under the amended bill, small employers who have at least one low-wage worker will be able to purchase coverage for all employees through the partnership. The board will set the minimum amount of a premium and the employer’s contribution will be pooled with employee contributions.

Senator Karen Keiser told the AP the partnership has two advantages: It would allow employees to keep their insurance if they switch jobs, and the money that employers contribute would not be taxed.

Republicans opponents of the bill said it does not do enough to help small businesses. They wanted a provision that would allow insurance companies to be able to offer scaled-back and cheaper health insurance plans to small businesses.

A compromise of the house and senate bills will need to be negotiated.