This afternoon, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) successfully amended the Senate Finance Committee’s health reform bill, to incorporate langauge that allows states to offer the kind of healthcare safety net we have here in Washington State. The amendment passed with no Republican support and only one Democratic defection: Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who is evidently auditioning for a job on K Street after her term ends.
Cantwell’s amendment directs states to create a “basic health plan” for families who currently have a hard time finding coverage: those who aren’t eligible for Medicaid, but who still struggle to afford insurance.
The measure would apply to people who make up to twice the federal poverty level — about $44,000 for a family of four.
The parameters of this proposed “basic health plan” are defined by the state government but the coverage is administered by private insurers. The plan is modeled after Washington’s twenty-year old Basic Health Plan:
In essence, what Washington state does is define a basic health plan–it sets the deductible, out of pocket limit, co-pays, drug cost sharing, and defines exactly what must be covered. Private insurers bid to be able to offer basically this exact same plan. A few private insurers are qualified; there are small differences in the basic health plan depending on the insurer the individual selects. Premiums are subsidized by the state to make the plans affordable.
There have been several things about Senator Cantwell and SenatorMurray that I have not liked, especially their alternating approach to vote spitting so neither one has to be saddled with only controversial positions.
Senator Cantwell has been doing a great job on the Finance committee. This particular amendment could potentially have a significant effect on health care plans. A pubic option may be needed to keep costs down but this approach, which has been used here in Washington for some time, is a nice example of how states can act as incubators for innovative approaches that can then be extended nationwide.
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