Bills seek to buffer potential repeal of health care law


OLYMIA, Wash. | Democrats in Washington state want to make sure that even if national Republicans and President Donald Trump follow through on their promise to repeal the Obama-era national health care law, that preventative health coverage benefits remain intact in the state.

Two bills — one in the House, another in the Senate — have been introduced that would require health plans to continue to cover the same preventive health services, with no copay, that were required by federal law as of the end of last year.

So things like flu shots and other immunizations, autism screening for children, and blood pressure and cholesterol screens would all still be covered. Contraception would also be covered without out-of-pocket costs, except in cases where federal exemptions exist, like for religious employer plans.

“It’s important for us to show that we’re doing all we can to be a buffer against what’s happening in Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. June Robinson, a Democrat from Everett who is sponsor of the House measure.

Robinson notes that without knowing exactly what will actually happen at the federal level, it’s hard for those at the state level to pre-emptively make changes. She said that while her measure would make sure those who retain insurance after a potential repeal would maintain the same preventative coverage, “it doesn’t help people who are going to lose their insurance.”

The current national health law offers subsidized private insurance for those who don’t have job-based coverage, along with a state option to expand Medicaid for low-income people. About 20 million people nationwide have gained coverage since it passed.

State officials say that more than 600,000 lower-income people in Washington state who gained coverage through Medicaid expansion could potentially lose coverage depending on what changes are made to the law at the federal level. If the state were to return to paying for previous health programs that were replaced by the federal law, the state’s costs would increase by $330 million per biennium.

Trump has said he wants to replace the Affordable Care Act with a plan that provides insurance for everybody and lowers deductibles. Republicans have yet to produce a replacement plan and have issued conflicting assessments of when they will do so.

Some local Republicans say that state action at this point is unnecessary.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen at the federal level,” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, a Republican from Snohomish. “It does concern me that we are trying to get in front of something that hasn’t even been defined.”

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said that he supports the measures, but acknowledged that “it’s hard not to feel that it’s somewhat premature, because we can’t figure out what they’re doing at the federal level.”

But he said he supported the lawmakers’ efforts to “draw a line and let people know what’s at stake.”

Kreidler’s office is currently working on creating a database to detail where the state has relied on the federal law and where there was already a state law or regulation in place.

“One part of this would be seeking to address some of the shortcomings on what we have in law, particularly if the federal law goes away,” he said.

The health care measures are House Bill 1523 and Senate Bill 5602