Late Saturday evening, Washington’s Legislature passed a bill that will lower health care costs for people across the state.
Cascade Care creates an affordable insurance option for individuals and families not eligible for insurance through their employer, Medicare or Medicaid. These patients must purchase their insurance on the individual market and now often pay 30 percent or more of their income towards premiums and deductibles. Those high costs force people to restrict their access to necessary health care.
Senate Bill 5526 reduces out-of-pocket costs by implementing standardized plans with more services available before deductibles. Standard plans also make it easier for consumers to compare benefits and shop for plans on the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. Washington joins six states – California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and Oregon, and the District of Columbia, that have already implemented standardized plans. Plans in Washington state will be available beginning in 2021.
Premiums will cost less because Cascade Care will cap reimbursements to providers based on 160 percent of Medicare benchmarks.
Cost savings are passed on to patients and benefit the entire health care system. When prices on the public insurance market decrease, hospitals and other providers find ways to cut their own costs, leading to reductions for people covered by employer-sponsored insurance as well.
Representative Eileen Cody and Senator David Frockt sponsored companion bills for Cascade Care, with the endorsement of Governor Jay Inslee, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, and the Insurance Commissioner. The Economic Opportunity Institute helped develop the concept, countered claims of opponents that the health industry could not afford to reduce costs, and led public advocacy efforts, joined by the Washington Academy of Family Physicians, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, SEIU 925 – representing childcare providers who struggle to afford healthcare, AARP, the Washington State Labor Council, the Senior Citizens Lobby, the Racial Equity Team, Community Health Plan of Washington, and other organizations.
Final passage of Cascade Care was held up until late in the legislative session because of opposition from the Washington State Medical Association, Association of Washington Health Care Plans, the Washington Hospital Association, Kaiser Permanente and other industry groups that lobbied against common sense solutions to bring down costs for Washingtonians. That opposition resulted in amendments that moved the reimbursement cap from 100 percent of Medicare in the original bill to the 160 percent level. Still, industry groups fought to remove the rate setting provision altogether.
Looking ahead to additional cost savings for Washingtonians, SB 5526 directs the Health Care Authority to develop a plan to fund premium subsidies for moderate income households purchasing coverage on the Exchange. This will further help offset the high-cost of insurance for working families and build on the Affordable Care Act, while developing the infrastructure for a universal system in the near future.
We are proud of this victory for Washingtonians and will continue our efforts to advance health care reform that uplifts all residents of our state.
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