Will ObamaCare Heal Our Basic Health Plan?

Money from the federal government could be a big help.

At first, state officials were telling Seattle Weekly that ObamaCare isn't likely to bail out our cash-strapped Basic Health Plan, which currently keeps 69,000 low-income people medically afloat. (An additional 99,000 people would like to get on it but can't because of the plan's already limited funds, which were cut in the previous legislative session.)The major provisions of the federal bill don't kick in until 2014, of course. Last week, though, Senator Maria Cantwell said that the president's health-care bill will in fact offer more immediate help. In a press conference with the governor, she trumpeted a provision she pushed for in the bill that would allow the state to apply for $180 million in federal funds to keep Basic Health going until the federally mandated "exchanges"—marketplaces that are supposed to sell affordable insurance—are due to start.That figure looks considerably inflated, however, relative to what we're likely to get. Federal assistance for Basic Health depends on the state receiving a "waiver," allowing Medicaid money to be used for people earning more than Medicaid rules normally allow.Federal officials have been encouraging about the state's chances, says Jonathan Seib, the governor's top health-care policy advisor, who participated in a negotiating session last week. But Seib says the figures discussed have been $52 to $60 million a year for Basic Health, not $180 million.Another provision authored by Cantwell in the federal bill allows states to partially opt out of the "exchanges" and continue to run their own programs—in Washington's case, Basic Health. At a second press conference last week, Gregoire called Basic Health "a model for the rest of the nation." But when asked if that meant the state would in fact seek to continue running the program rather than move its participants into "exchanges," the governor said no decision had been made. With exchanges, low-income people get tax credits to purchase their own insurance, whereas with Basic Health those funds all go to the state to run the program.

 
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