Washington’s health care system is failing the public. Despite recent reforms, a significant proportion of Washington’s residents remain uninsured, and many more are under-insured.
With health care costs growing more rapidly than income and revenue, and employers increasingly shifting costs to employees, more individuals and families are getting priced out of health care.
In response to the increased unaffordability of care, the state launched the Basic Health Plan, a subsidized health insurance plan for low-income residents. The program became permanent in 1993, and in 1995 the state legislature expanded the Basic Health Plan. At that time, 37,580 Washingtonians were enrolled in Basic Health. By 1997, enrollment had rocketed to 124,348.
During this time, the waitlist for Basic Health was also growing. With a clear need for access to affordable care, the Economic Opportunity Institute spearheaded policy research and design for I- 773, a measure to increase the tax on cigarettes with the intent to expand the number covered by Basic Health to 175,000 residents. Additionally, EOI built a coalition of health care activists and organizations to promote the initiative. State voters passed the measure with a 2 to 1 majority.
Despite the success of Basic Health, the program became a regular target for spending reductions. As a result, coverage fell dramatically while both the number on the waitlist and rate of uninsured climbed. Although reforms under the Affordable Care Act will help to grow the number of insured, many residents will continue to go uncovered.
EOI knows a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. A successful health system not only protects the well-being and economic security of the state’s workforce and residents, it helps to maintain economic productivity and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the state.
The five guiding principles of a new health care system should be:
- Universal coverage – everyone should be included
- Public accountability and oversight
- A single risk pool to end fragmentation and market inefficiency.
- Maintain current sources of funding: citizens, businesses, and government
- Cost controls must be achieved
We are currently developing a unique and value-added approach for universal coverage based on the principles above — and at the same time, working to create a fairer, more sustainable tax system in Washington State with sufficient revenue to fund this basic and vital human service.