The day before I launched my campaign, the U.S. Congress passed a monumental health care overhaul bill that will extend health care coverage to 30 million Americans. This achievement will help most of the 810,000 uninsured Washingtonians get health care, will make coverage more affordable for the 359,000 Washingtonians who buy health insurance on the individual market, will ensure that 615,000 young people in our state stay covered by their parents' insurance, and will provide immediate assistance in obtaining prescription medication to the 159,000 Washington seniors who fall into the Medicare Part D "donut hole."
The bill does not contain everything that I would have hoped for, particularly a public option for health insurance, which would have gone a long way to further drive down costs. However, it addresses the three biggest problems in our health care system: it dramatically expands the number of Americans who have health insurance, increases the quality and security of that health insurance by ensuring that at least 80 percent of premiums are spent on care and that sick individuals can't be dropped from their plan, and reduces costs in the long run by paying for Medicare based on the value of care provided, not the quantity of it. It also provides new funding for 232 community health clinics across our state, helping these providers of last resort at a time when state and local funding has become more scarce.
Health care reform will have a big impact on Washington state and will require hard work by our state legislators to ensure that we are ready for the full implementation of the health insurance exchanges in 2014.
My priorities for ensuring that all Washingtonians have access to quality, affordable care, include:
*Protecting the Basic Health Plan. Already, Basic Health has suffered painful reductions due to the state's budget crisis. As a result of cuts in 2009, it dropped from covering 100,000 Washingtonians to 60,000. The waiting list for Basic Health is now 100,000 names long. Tough economic times are the most important times for us to have last-resort health care options for working people whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, and we need to fund Basic Health until the expansion of Medicaid and the full implementation of the insurance exchanges take place in 2014.
Hard work by our state's elected officials, especially Rep. Eileen Cody, Sen. Karen Keiser, and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, has secured a Medicaid waiver for Washington that allows many of our citizens who are currently covered by Basic Health and Disability Lifeline to be moved onto Medicaid, saving the state $50 million that can be used to sustain other critical health care programs.
*Expanding access to family planning. Providing affordable family planning and reproductive health services and example of preventative care that saves money and improves family economic security in the long run. I strongly support protecting reproductive health services, both in the law and in the budget, and support the provision of comprehensive, medically accurate sex education both in schools and in medical facilities.*
*Washington has already provided leadership to the health reform effort by sharing with our federal legislators strategies that have worked to control costs, expand coverage, and improve the quality of care here in Washington. As we move towards enacting the state-level reforms that national health care reform requires, we need legislators who understand the critical role that our state plays in regulating health insurance and providing coverage to over 1 million Washington citizens through Medicaid, Basic Health, Disability Lifeline, and Apple Health for Kids.