ObamaCare Won't Bail Out Washington's Basic Health Plan

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The Legislature is still scrounging around for funding to support the state's insurance program.
With the passage of "historic" federal health care reform, we no longer have to worry about funding the state's Basic Health Plan, right?

Wrong. State officials say that the state-run program, which provides insurance for low-income people, will be needed until at least 2014. Unfortunately, state officials say they have little money to pay for it.

So as a budget fight continues in Olympia, it's looking increasingly like the Democrat-controlled state Legislature will weaken the program at precisely the moment that President Obama and his supporters in Congress have made health care their number one issue.

The Basic Health Plan may become redundant in 2014 because that's when federally-mandated "exchanges "-- marketplaces that are supposed to sell affordable insurance-- are due to start. In the meantime, the state plan is keeping 69,000 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 last legislative session.

Both the Senate's and House's proposed budgets ostensibly preserve the current level of funding, at least temporarily. But the question is, says David Wasser, spokesperson for the Health Care Authority, the state agency that runs the plan: "Where is that money coming from?"

The Senate's budget (see pdf) relies on the cigarette tax for approximately half of the plan's continued funding. The problem with that, says Wasser, is that tax revenue "comes in over time," not immediately.

The House budget (see pdf) uses the state's general funds to put money into the plan until January 1. But after that it assumes that additional Medicaid money brought by the Obama bill will pick up much of the tab. Yet, Wasser points out, Medicaid can only go for people making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (29,000 for a family of four), and the Basic Health Plan supports those earning up to 200 percent (44,000 for the same size family), leaving a funding gap for a big chunk of enrollees.

The Senate and House are now locked into furious negotiations about how to reconcile their varying budgets.

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