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Washington State Plans for the Future of Health Care Reform

With a very active session wrapping up, the Washington State Legislature has laid the way for future health care reform. Late Monday evening, legislators passed SB 6333, the Citizens' Work Group on Health Care Reform. The legislation, which awaits the Governor's signature, authorizes a detailed analysis of leading comprehensive health care reform models and requires the Work Group to engage the public in developing recommendations for comprehensive reform.

The legislation is similar to reform commissions in Colorado and New Mexico, which conducted detailed actuarial studies of various health care reform models, from limited benefit plans to single-payer systems, and have since reported their findings. The Washington Work Group, like Colorado's commission, is required to report specific recommendations for legislative action by November 1, 2009, in time for the 2010 session. 

The Washington legislation identifies four models for reform for further and actuarial study. One of the models is the Washington Health Partnership (SB 6221), a comprehensive proposal by State Senator Karen Keiser modeled after the Wisconsin proposal called Healthy Wisconsin (SB 562).  In January, the Progressive States Network brought Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach, the sponsor of Healthy Wisconsin, to Olympia, Washington to participate in the roll-out of Senator Keiser's legislation. Healthy Wisconsin would guarantee all Wisconsin residents who are not eligible for public programs like Medicaid and Medicare affordable and comprehensive health care benefits. It establishes a progressive financing structure based on payroll and requires everyone -- employers, employees, and government -- to pay their fair share. According to a Lewin Group analysis, Healthy Wisconsin would save the state $14 billion over ten years. A more recent analysis by Citizen Action of Wisconsin shows that the average family would save 40% to 62% of what they currently spend on health care under Healthy Wisconsin -- a savings of $1,320 to $4,180 per year. 

The process laid out for Washington's Citizens' Work Group on Health Care Reform will allow for an apples-to-apples comparison of various proposals for health care reform. This will highlight the strength of models, like Healthy Wisconsin, that achieve greater coordination, strengthen patient-doctor control and more fairly distribute costs, compared to more limited reforms that don't move beyond the current disjointed system.

SB 6333 was a top priority for the Healthy Washington Coalition, a broad coalition of health care advocates and stakeholders working to "achieve secure, quality and affordable healthcare for all Washingtonians."

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