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Washington Senator Unveils Comprehensive Health Care Reform Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, January 21, 2008
CONTACT:  Austin Guest, aguest@progressivestates.org, 212-680-3116, ext. 110 


WASHINGTON SATE SENATOR UNVEILS COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL

JOINING WISCONSIN, STATE IS POISED TO TAKE ON LEAD ROLE IN NATIONAL REFORM DEBATE

Olympia, WA — At a press conference this morning at the State House, in Olympia, State Senator Karen Keiser (D, Des Moines) unveiled an ambitious new bill, called the Washington Health Partnership, that would bring health care to all Washingtonians and introduce new measures to reduce costs and increase quality of care.  At her side was Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D, Madison), author of the Health Wisconsin reform package on which Keiser’s legislation is modeled.

At the conference, Sen. Keiser characterized the spiraling cost of health care for families across the state and the nation as a “major crisis” and  proclaimed,  “The Washington Health Partnership will make health care affordable and accessible to everyone.”

Under the Washington Health Partnership, coverage would be extended  to all residents not already eligible for public programs like Medicaid and Medicare.  The bill would create a public pool of funds paid for by employer and employee payroll deductions and distribute these funds directly to existing coverage networks.  After contributing a payroll deduction of between 2-4% of social security wages, employees would pay no premiums and be free to choose from a wide range of private health care providers.

Proponents point to the savings generated by the bill’s funding mechanism as one of its primary merits.  According to Sen. Keiser, the increased purchasing power created by the pooling of funds and the accompanying consolidation of providers’ administrative costs would generate savings of over a billion dollars a year in health care expenditures. 

In Wisconsin, an independent study by the Lewin Group projected that these cost-saving measures would save families an average of $750 a year on health care expenditures, trim costs for employers that currently offer health benefits by an average of 15%, and save the state $13.8 billion dollars on health care spending over the next ten years.

Sen. Erpenbach also highlighted the freedom to choose among providers as another selling point for the bill.  “This is not the government stepping in and telling you which doctor you have to use.   This is the government providing a simpler and cheaper way for you to pay for your health insurance.”

The Washington Health Partnership package was submitted to the State Senate at today’s meeting of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee.  Healthy Wisconsin was passed in the State Senate last July but voted down by the Republican-controlled Assembly and is slated to be resubmitted this year.

If passed, the two bills would mark the first two instances of states providing a public funding mechanism to provide coverage for all of their residents.  According to Adam Thompson, a senior Health Care Policy Specialist with the Progressive States Network, a group that tracks health care reform efforts in states across the nation,"While Massachusetts and California have taken center stage on health care reform in the states, Washington and Wisconsin are blazing a new path that should be a model for all those that truly care about achieving affordable health care for all Americans."

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