As a press conference with Governor Chris Gregoire made clear today, the president's sweeping health care bill may be signed but there are still lots of decisions that Washington state has to make. For instance, the bill puts a lot of money up for grabs in the form of federal grants. Which will this state apply for?
Gregoire will direct her new cabinet to weigh the fate of the Basic Health Plan.
ObamaCare also lets states opt out of running new insurance marketplaces called "exchanges" if they have a better program. Will Washington seek to do that in order to continue the Basic Health Plan?
To answer those and other questions, and to locally implement the massive federal bill, Gregoire used the press conference, held at Swedish Medical Center, to announce that she was creating a new "health care cabinet" composed of various department heads.
At first, the governor seemed to indicate that her mind was made up on one matter: the fate of the Basic Health Plan."The Basic Health Plan is a model for the rest of the nation," the governor said of the state-run program, which offers insurance to low-income people. She said Obama's Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had told her just that.
Yet, when asked whether that meant the state would, in fact, seek to continue running the program rather than move its participants into "exchanges," the governor said that decision had not yet been made. She also said that while she was actively pursing federal funds to keep the cash-starved program solvent, even Basic Health's immediate future was not yet assured.
The governor and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, also at the press conference, stressed that the federal bill had left them with momentous tasks. Kreidler said that all of the 2,000 insurance plans in the state need to be rewritten immediately and approved by his office. The plans must now cover preventative services, for example, as well as get rid of lifetime caps on benefits.
Portraying themselves as eagerly jumping on the work, the state officials sounded a note of triumph in seeing a health care bill finally become law. Still, there were reminders in the room that the bill would not solve everything. Tom Curry, executive director of the Washington State Medical Association, noted in an interview that national Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors were dropping by 21 percent, starting today. He predicted that some doctors would consequently stop seeing Medicare patients.
Thus, he said, "We're going to have worsening access to care for senior citizens at the same time that we're increasing access for other folks."