The Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board has decided to oppose a bill sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, that would change the exchange from a public-private partnership to a state agency.
It is the first time Washington’s exchange board has taken a formal position on a piece of legislation.
The two members who voted against the motion were Teresa Mosqueda and Hiroshi Nakano.
Nakano, who is CEO of South Sound Neurosurgery, is a new member of the board. The other new board member is Bill Hinkle, a former state legislator. It was the first board meeting for both of them. They replace Steve Appel and Doug Conrad.
Mosqueda said she felt uncomfortable weighing in on the legislation, especially without first receiving public input. “I don’t think the board should take a position on this or any other legislation,” said Mosqueda, who is legislative and policy director for the Washington State Labor Council.
Voting in favor of the motion were Hinkle, Phil Dyer, Bill Baldwin, Melanie Curtice, Ben Danielson and Don Conant. Board Chair Margaret Stanley is a non-voting member.
Baldwin urged the board to express opposition to HB 2340. “I don’t see any logical reason to [turn] this into a state agency,” said Baldwin, who is a partner in The Partners Group. “In fact, it’s counter to any potential success, in my opinion, going forward.”
HB 2340 would make the exchange a stand-alone state agency with a director appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The bill would retain the exchange board, but the director would serve at the pleasure of the governor, not the board.
Exchange CEO Richard Onizuka told the board that he and the exchange staff first heard about the bill at the State of Reform conference in Seattle on Jan. 8.
The board’s vote to oppose the Cody bill came a week after the board decided at its January meeting to begin taking positions on legislation that could have an impact on the exchange and its operations. Mosqueda was the only board member to vote against the motion.
Prior to the vote, exchange staff presented the board with an “impact statement” that included a list of the following pros and cons of the bill:
Could receive money directly from the state (instead of going through HCA)
Could utilize other state services, e.g., motor pool, other state contracts
Shifting of policy authority from bipartisan Board to executive branch
Loss of overall flexibility, agility in decision-making, and ability to react quickly to customer needs
Timeline for implementation may result in a diversion of Exchange resources and energy to create a state agency
HB 2340 will be taken up by the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, which Cody chairs.
The committee will hear testimony on the bill during public hearings scheduled for Feb. 3 and Feb. 5. The bill is also slated for possible discussion during an executive session of the committee on the evening of Feb. 3.
Exchange staff are expecting to testify on the bill. Onizuka asked that a board member accompany the staff to give testimony. The board agreed that Stanley, as board chair, is in the best position to testify on its behalf.