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Washington State First to Pass Public Option Healthcare

Last month, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill making Washington the first state in the country to offer public option healthcare. Inslee, who is also running for president, said the bill would serve as a “template” for the rest of the country.

“I believe health care is a right, not a privilege,” he said. “While our state continues to help lead the national fight for health care for all, this is one way our state is taking action now to ensure affordable care for more people.”

About the bill

Signed on April 22, Senate bill 5526 will create Cascade Care, the nation’s first public option healthcare. A public option is an alternative health insurance plan offered by the government.

Public option plans will be available to all Washington residents by 2021, regardless of their income. These plans are expected to be priced at least 10 percent lower than private plans because they cap payments to doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers at 160 percent of Medicare’s rate. The savings accrued by this cap will be used to sell plans at a lower price than what private plans are currently offering.

The goals of the bills are to:

  • Insure those who cannot afford private plans,
  • Create more options for residents of rural counties, and
  • Encourage private insurers to lower rates in order to remain competitive.

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Hybrid model

Those who worked on the bill have called it a hybrid model. Similar to Medicare Advantage, the state will regulate and dictate the terms of these public options, but private insurance companies will handle administrative duties, patient enrollment, and claim payouts.

Washington Senator David Frockt (D), who sponsored the bill, said the hybridity of the bill was a compromise between single-payer and private insurance models. In other words, this hybrid model attempts to please all parties by keeping private insurance companies involved in public options while also filling coverage gaps throughout the state.

Medicare for All

Although the bill is a distinct move to the left in regards to the government’s role in healthcare, it still stops short of a completely public system like Medicare for All.

First introduced by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) in 2003, the Medicare for All movement gained momentum when Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made it a major issue of his platform in the 2016 presidential race. At the time, Sanders’s bill only received 16 co-sponsors.

A new iteration of the bill, the Medicare for All Act of 2019,  has since been released by Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), gaining over 100 co-sponsors before the official version was even presented on the House floor in late February. This version is considered the official Medicare for All bill, which is being used in ongoing Medicare for All hearings in the House.

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