With national spotlight on the ACA, Washington State lawmakers vote to preserve pieces of it

The Washington State Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would codify provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into state law.

The vote came just two days after the U.S. Department of Justice voiced its support for a decision made by a federal judge in Texas, who recently struck down the ACA as unconstitutional.


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The House bill has now passed out of both chambers, and both floor votes have been along party lines. It isn’t across the finish line quite yet — it was amended in the Senate to include an emergency clause. It will now go back to the House for another vote before it can go to the governor’s desk.

This will be Rep. Lauren Davis’s first prime-sponsored bill as a legislator to make it all the way to the governor’s desk, if the House approves the amended legislation.

“Now more than ever, with President Trump trying to use the courts to take health insurance away from 20 million Americans, it’s imperative that elected leaders in our state take action to protect access to lifesaving and life-giving healthcare,” Davis said in an email. “Families across our state rely on these services and the prospect that their access to healthcare could disappear tomorrow is terrifying.”

If it ultimately passes, the bill will preserve several provisions in the ACA into state law that will apply to health care plans sold in Washington, regardless of action at the federal level.

One big talking point for the legislation’s supporters: It codifies into state law the ACA’s prohibition for health carriers to reject applicants, deny them coverage, or limit their coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.

Among the other ACA provisions it codifies: Patients can’t be dropped from coverage unless there’s fraud involved. And, services for the “ten essential health benefit categories” can’t be subject to annual or lifetime limits — those benefit categories include maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, prescription drugs, preventive care, and oral and vision care for children.

“We know that the consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act in 2010 brought tremendous relief to households across our state and across our nation,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, who sponsored the companion bill in the Senate, in a press release. “The Trump administration’s efforts to rescind the act this week make passage of this legislation more important and urgent than ever.”

Arguments against the bill during Wednesday’s floor debate came from several Republican senators.

Sen. Ann Rivers said she thought the bill was “yet another stab at the president, yet another opportunity to vilify.” Sen. Randi Becker said that, while she thinks the protections for people with pre-existing conditions and other parts of the ACA were a good thing, she didn’t feel the same about the law as a whole.

“I don’t want to create laws in Washington State based upon fear of the unknown, of what’s happening in the future,” Becker said. “I think there are things in the Affordable Care Act that are good, as I’ve mentioned. But…there are things that we should, as Washington State, be looking at to improve upon what the Affordable Care Act has done.”

Specifically, she pointed to managed care organizations and access to care.

“This system is not perfect,” Becker said. “So, by passing this and saying we’re not going to look at how we can make this better for the people of Washington — make it better so people have not just health insurance, but access to health insurance, the care they need, when they need it and how they need it…I have real issues with this bill limiting our provisions for the future.”

Davis rejected the idea that the provisions this law would preserve aren’t working.

“I simply disagree,” Davis said in an email. “The ACA took major steps forward in the right direction to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. It removed lifetime caps on benefit and increased access to preventative care and behavioral health services. These are all critical policies that we need to increase access to quality healthcare.”

With the newly added emergency clause, the bill would go into effect as soon as Gov. Jay Inslee signs it.

This story was also cross-posted on our sister site, Washington State Wire.