Washington State Capitol

Washington State Capitol

OLYMPIA — Universal health care for every state resident who wants it could come to Washington by 2026.

A bill under consideration now in the state Legislature establishes a healthcare commission to develop a comprehensive plan for a publicly funded health care.

For Mary Ann Riddis, guaranteed care and treatment would have helped her family. Riddis’ husband and two of her children all underwent cancer treatment, she told the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

Because of obstacles with her work’s insurance provider, Riddis went into debt and filed for medical bankruptcy as a result of three cancer treatment plans. Riddis said the current system allows health insurance providers to deny certain services for any reason. Better services require more money.

“Healthcare is being relegated to those who have resources instead of to those who need it,” Riddis said.

Senate Bill 5399 establishes a voting board of both legislators and healthcare experts to determine how the state could transition to a universal system. It does not guarantee a single-payer system, but the commission would be tasked with finding a way to publicly fund and expand health services.

The commission, which would include two members from each party in each chamber of the Legislature, would research and then recommend ways to implement expanded healthcare in the state in a financially viable way. Others on the board would include the Department of Health secretary, the CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange and the director at the Office of Equity.

By November 2024, the board would recommend a new universal healthcare system to the Legislature and governor with a detailed analysis of how much it would cost and how it would go into effect. To make their recommendation, members would have to consider disparities in access to health services and how to expand access in small communities.

Opponents to the bill said it does not address the full financial impact. Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said the bill would target private insurance companies and likely result in a tax-funded court challenge.

“We can’t even begin to say that we can control the spending and keep the promises we are making in this bill,” Wilson said.

According to the fiscal note, the current estimated cost would total $950,000 in the next two years, and then $723,000 between 2023-25, with costs falling on the Washington State Health Care Authority. A bulk of the costs would come from professional service contracts and salaries for state employees.

The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website operated by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Learn more at wastatejournal.org.

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