Today Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law E2SHB 2319 -- the Washington State Health Benefit Exchange bill, ensuring individuals and small businesses have accessible, affordable healthcare coverage. The bill signing marks the two year anniversary of the federal Affordable Care Act.
"Today we took a giant step in our goal of providing quality and affordable health care to every Washingtonian by 2014," Gregoire said. "No longer will millions have inadequate insurance that does little when they most need it."
With the passing of President Obama's Affordable Care Act by congress in 2010, each state was given the option of developing and administering its own healthcare exchange, or having a "one-size-fits-all" exchange introduced and operated by the federal government starting Jan.1, 2014. At the Governor's request, legislation was passed last session forming the foundation for a state-designed and administered health benefit exchange. Washington state is among the first states to develop and implement a health benefit exchange before the 2014 deadline. The Washington State Health Care Authority has developed, and will administer, a state-wide healthcare exchange website housing all competitive healthcare information for prospective buyers.
"It was a tough fight, but the consumer protections included in this bill ensure that health plans can't cherry pick and take only healthy customers," Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said. "Nearly everybody gets sick at some point. Under Washington's exchange, they'll be able to find the coverage they need -- and many will get help paying for it."
Under the new Health Benefit Exchange, consumers can quickly and easily compare insurance plans and standard benefit options, including, doctors' visits, hospitalization, maternity care, and mental health care. The exchange website is built with individuals and small businesses in mind and creates a user-friendly platform for purchasing healthcare in a one-stop shop capacity.
Senator Karen Keiser sponsored legislation in the Senate and Representative Eileen Cody sponsored legislation in the House.
"We are creating a new opportunity for Washington citizens to enter this marketplace and have access to affordable, competitive health plans at a price they can manage," said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, chair of the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee. "This bill will create a viable, sustainable and consumer friendly marketplace that promotes competition and reduces the complexity of purchasing health insurance. This is the future of insurance in the state of Washington. While other states have run into political barriers, inhibiting their ability in implement health reform, in Washington, we continue to move forward."
The bill signing marked the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. The Affordable Care Act has already made a difference in Washington state by ensuring:
More than 2.4 million Washingtonians no longer have a lifetime limit on their health insurance plan, thanks to health care reform giving them hope and help.
More than 1.2 million Washingtonians have either received or added coverage for important preventive services.
More than 62,000 seniors received a significant rebate to help cover prescription drug costs when they hit the donut hole in 2010. In 2011 more than 60,000 received a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs, saving an average of $598 per person. By 2020 the Affordable Care Act will close the donut hole.
More than 52,000 young adults in Washington under age 26 have gained health insurance coverage through their parents' plan.
One million Washingtonians will no longer be uninsured and worry that getting sick or hurt could lead to financial ruin.
Small businesses -- the backbone of our economy -- no longer have to pay more than larger businesses for employee health care.
Washingtonians will no longer be afraid to change jobs, have a baby or make other life changes because they fear how they will cope if they lose coverage.
Gov. Gregoire vetoed section 26 of E2SHB 2319, due to redundant language and undue risk of litigation.