In the late 1980’s, Washington State took a major step forward to improve health care coverage by creating the Basic Health Plan (BHP), which provided basic health insurance to low-income working families. But after a decade of chronic underfunding, in 2001 only 125,000 people were enrolled in the plan, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers with inadequate health coverage – or none at all.
EOI responded by spearheading policy research and design for Initiative 773, and building a coalition of health care activists and organizations, including the Community Health Plan of Washington, Group Health Cooperative and the American Lung Association, to promote the initiative.
Passed by Washington voters with a 2 to 1 majority, I-773 increased taxes on cigarettes, directing the proceeds into the BHP to provide additional coverage for low-income adults and children. The increased tax brought another benefit: the state’s youth smoking rate declined by nearly 50%.
During the 2003 recession, Washington legislators reallocated state funds. The BHP suffered deep budget cuts and has yet to recover. But without I-773, the BHP would not have survived that budget crisis at all. Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians – including 105,500 individuals enrolled in the BHP in 2008 – would have no health coverage. The success of I-773 also demonstrated convincingly that voters wanted improved health care coverage for working families and their children.
Today, with over 800,000 Washington adults and children still without basic health insurance, EOI is analyzing the economic benefits of universal coverage and working to create a fairer, more sustainable tax system in Washington State, with sufficient revenue to fund this basic and vital human service.