Stakeholders react to passage of public option legislation

On Monday, Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5526, the state’s public health care option known as “Cascade Care.” The bill has attracted attention and a wide range of comments since its first public hearing. Now that it’s passed, here’s how some key stakeholders and legislators are reacting:


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Pam MacEwan, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, and Ron Sims, the Exchange’s Board Chair released the following statement:

“The Exchange and its Board applaud today’s signing by Gov. Jay Inslee of Senate Bill 5526 establishing the nation’s first-ever public option for health insurance coverage.

Our enduring goal is to ensure that every Washingtonian has access to affordable health insurance coverage that protects themselves and their family. The signing of today’s landmark legislation is a step toward stemming the tide of higher costs and lower value that has prevented many from securing a health plan that met their needs.

The Exchange would like to thank the governor, legislators and the many other contributors who helped make this bill a reality. We look forward to partnering with the Health Care Authority, Office of the Insurance Commissioner and other key stakeholders in designing and implementing suitable coverage options that are more understandable, more affordable and of more value to all Washingtonians.”

Following the governor’s signature, Sen. David Frockt, the prime sponsor of SB 5526, stated:

“Very simply, Cascade Care is designed to lower premiums and deductibles for families and people purchasing insurance on the individual market. Washingtonians need coverage that they can use to stay healthy and to insure that they are not in financial distress if they face a serious health related event.

This important bill moves us forward in our ongoing effort to provide high quality, more affordable health insurance to every Washingtonian, and I hope it will be an example to other states on what can be done to improve their systems.”

In a Medium post outlining several key pieces of health-related legislation passed this year, Governor Inslee said:

“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” Inslee said. “It builds on work we’ve done over the past several years to expand and protect health care under the Affordable Care Act. This legislation is one way for our state to push back and ensure all Washingtonians have a quality health insurance option they can afford. I believe health care is a right, not a privilege. While our state continues to help lead the national fight for health care for all, this is one way our state is taking action now to ensure affordable care for more people.”

Meg Jones, Executive Director of the Association of Washington Healthcare Plans, discussed implementation of the bill after it passed out of both chambers, saying:

“[The public option bill] will definitely change the individual insurance coverage marketplace in Washington State,” Jones said. “It’s unique, in the country, and we are going to be evaluating its effect as the different provisions of the bill are implemented. Because, truly, the way it will impact carriers is definitely tied to the approach that’s taken in implementation and the decisions that are made by the agencies during implementation.”

Not all of the reactions to the recently-signed bill were positive. In its final form, SB 5526 passed in both the House and Senate along party lines.

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox spoke about the bill in a TVW interview on the final day of session:

“All of us understand the public’s frustration with what’s happening with the costs of health care and because of that, the cost of insurance… But, so much of the growth that we’re seeing in the cost of health care has been because of all of the government tinkering with the system — additional mandates, both on patients and also on medical professionals and the agencies and companies that are involved in health care. And so, although we want to find ways to make health care less expensive and more affordable for all of our citizens here, we’re not sure that adding another government-run option is the way to do that. In fact, we think that more private competition is a much better answer.”

Representative Joe Schmick, Ranking Minority Member of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee, expressed concern about the rate cap in the bill and the ability of Cascade Care to drive down health care costs:

“I did not support the bill. I do not believe it will achieve what they’re after. Specifically, putting a reimbursement rate cap for all covered benefits — none of the providers support it and none of the hospitals support it. You’re going to force providers at this reimbursement rate, and there’s no incentive for them to take it. You are putting into statute rates that you’re going to force people to take, and I don’t think there’s a willingness for that. Quite frankly, outside of price controls artificially put in the bill, there’s nothing in there that can drive down costs.”