The Washington state House and Senate passed two bills designed to overhaul the state's healthcare system and make insurance coverage more affordable for small businesses.
The House passed a sweeping healthcare reform measure based on the 16 recommendations made in February by the governor's bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Costs and Access. The Senate must approve changes made to the bill before it heads to Gov. Christine Gregoire, who is expected to sign it into law.
Among other things, the omnibus bill would encourage the state to pay for effective healthcare practices, start health-promotion programs for state employees and create a statewide electronic medical-records pilot program. It also calls for state agencies to find better ways to reduce unnecessary emergency room usage, cut administrative costs and care for patients with chronic conditions.
Meanwhile, the state Senate passed a bill that would create a public-private health insurance exchange in which a state board would serve as a "connector" between small-business employees and insurers. Under the bill, which is based loosely on Massachusetts' landmark healthcare initiative, small employers that have at least one low-wage worker would be able to purchase coverage for all their employees through the exchange. The employers contribution would be pooled with employee contributions. The state board would then negotiate with insurers for the best rates.
The House must sign off on changes made to the bill before it heads to the governor's desk. -- by Laura B. Benko