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Work group divided over universal healthcare

Work group divided over universal healthcare

The state Universal Health Care Work Group has released its initial report to the legislature on the idea of a single-payer or “universal” state healthcare system. While the Nov. 15 report notes an apparent consensus among its diverse members regarding problems with the current healthcare situation, division remains on appropriate solutions and whether those proposals are financially viable.

“There are people that have been working on health care reform for a long time, and there are a lot of good ideas for process….but no consensus on exactly how that’s done,” Jamie-Strausz Clark said at the work group’s Dec. 9 meeting. She is the director of public involvement at PRR, which is facilitating the work group meetings.

She added that “there was obviously a lot of consensus that…there are a lot of problems with it (healthcare) in Washington state.”

Yet critics of a single-payer system need only point to a recent report by the Washington Institute for Public Policy that concluded it would require $28 billion in new taxes. Washington Policy Center Health Care Policy Analyst Dr. Roger Stark has also highlighted challenges Canada has faced with its single-payer system. “The supply of health care is overwhelmed by the demand in Canada leading to severe shortages. The fundamental issue is that a single-payer system can insure everyone, but it does not in any way guarantee timely access to health care.”

According to the work group report, some members noted “a lot of work has already been done on identifying existing problems with the health care system and articulating solutions, but how to finance these solutions remains an unanswered question.”

The state legislature this year sought to improve healthcare affordability during this year’s session by passing a bill creating a standardized healthcare plan. However, healthcare industry members have argued that this approach fails to account for provider costs and actually undermines healthcare access.

There are an estimated 400,000 uninsured residents in Washington. At six percent of the state population, it’s lower than the 10-percent nationwide uninsured rate. Nevertheless, critics of the current system highlight issues such as surprising billing or the price tag for plans through the state healthcare exchange. Kelly Powers told the work group at its Dec. 9 meeting that the insurance premiums for her family is “like buying a new car, but we don’t even get to take it off the lot. We have done a very good job of playing whack-a-mole holding down premiums here…but what I’m here to tell you is that playing whack-a-mole is no longer working.”

During the session, the legislature also funded the work group to look at “establishing a universal health care system in Washington” (page 135).

Although the work group’s report found that members agreed on the need for improvements to healthcare, they differed widely on what to do about it.

“For some of these members, success would be a thorough exploration of a few different approaches to expanding health care and increasing affordability,” the report states. “For others, it would be documentation of the roadblocks to universal health care and practical solutions to overcoming those roadblocks.”

There are now plans to develop evaluation criteria regarding healthcare access and transparency to serve as “a map that we use to go forward…for what universal health care can look like and has looked like in other places,” Health Management Associates Principal Katie Rogers told work group members.

The next work group meeting is scheduled for February.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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