Opinion

Health care in Washington: Did you know?

For the Independent

I frequently try to educate citizens about the latest issues affecting the state. Recently, I engaged in a “Did You Know?” conversation about health care. Many were surprised by the answers.

For example, did you know?

• Roughly 593,000 Washingtonians are without health care coverage.

•?Small businesses’ health insurance costs have increased 200 percent in 11 years.

• In 2006, the state spent $4.5 billion on health care — a $1.8 billion increase from 2000.

With such a crisis in Washington, what is the Legislature doing about it?

During the 2008 session, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 6333. This measure creates the Washington Citizens’ Work Group on Health Care Reform. This group will meet next year to study several health care reform proposals.

A final legislative report is due November 2009.

Sounds like a great start toward meaningful reforms, right?

Well, not so fast.

Did you know this is the 16th health care study by the Legislature since 2005?

Did you know the Legislature has spent millions of dollars on these studies? This latest study will cost taxpayers $1.1 million.

Did you know that since 2000, the Legislature has passed nearly 200 health care bills?

And what do we have to show for it?

Since 2000, the cost of a typical family health care plan has nearly tripled. We have less access and more costs.

It’s not that past studies have been flawed. In fact, the January 2007 report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Costs and Access (co-chaired by Gov. Gregoire) contained very good suggestions that would have lowered costs and increased access.

Among those was a recommendation to “give individuals and families more choice in selecting private insurance that work for them” by allowing Washington residents and small businesses to purchase affordable, customized or mandate-free plans, just as residents of other states do.

Did you know mandates significantly drive up health insurance costs? Most people don’t need coverage for cleft palate, for example, or pre-natal care if they are not within child-bearing age.

Yet consumers are required to pay for Washington’s 50-plus health insurance mandates, whether they need them or not.

I co-sponsored House Bill 1539, which would have allowed health insurers to offer affordable options as outlined in the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission report.

Unfortunately, we weren’t even allowed a hearing on this or other similar health care legislation.

Tighter state insurance regulations adopted since the 1990s have done us no favors. Those so-called “health care reforms” have driven 34 insurance carriers out of Washington.

The three remaining major insurance carriers now have a monopoly on the market. Less competition means fewer choices and higher costs.

And yet, as families struggle, the Legislature’s only answer is another expensive study.

While we know the federal government also has work to do related to health care costs, state government has a responsibility to its citizens.

At the state level, we know what many of the problems are.

We don’t need further studies. We need the leadership and political will to implement the good ideas from previous proposals.

Hopefully, as more people know what is really happening in Olympia on this issue, we can work for solutions, not studies, that will finally provide a system which lowers costs and provides families the affordable, accessible health care choices they need.

State Rep. Dan Kristiansen,

R-Snohomish, represents Washington’s

39th Legislative District.

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