Basic Health Option for Washingtonians Still Part of Talks

Mar 25, 2014

Washington State’s Basic Health program, which helped those with lower incomes gain access to health care, was discontinued when the state created it’s Health Exchange under the Affordable Care Act, and took the federal option of expanding Medicaid. But now, there is an effort to bring it back.

At its peak, the Basic Health program served over one hundred thousand of the state’s residents get health insurance. The plan worked on a sliding pay scale, dependent on a person’s income. Now Basic Health has been superseded by the Medicaid expansion, and the state’s Health Exchange’s offerings.

But there are some who believe Basic Health could still serve a purpose. Janet Varon with the NW health law Advocates, says those who make just above the cutoff income for Medicaid are still struggling to be able to pay for premiums in the least costly Health insurance policies offered under the State Health Exchange. She says even if the premiums are affordable in the least costly plans, that coverage is not as good.
Varon: "What that essentially means is their cost sharing and deductibles are high, and they may find that the first $5,000 to $7,500 dollars aren’t covered, and that might be a deterrent when they learn that.”

In addition, some have incomes that change every month, which creates other problems. She says many people at the income levels do have fluctuating incomes. "They may have fluctuating incomes, with part time or hourly jobs, and if they have to cross lines and go to different types of coverage, their care can be disrupted if they do that,” says Varon.

To have a Basic Health option that would provide better coverage at a lower cost than the cheaper exchange plans offered would be a boon to someone like Claire Johnston, who runs a bar with her husband in Waitsburg. She says the winter is a slow time for business.

Johnston: "To have that option that we can fall back on in slow times, is really very comforting. And I wouldn’t take advantage of it. If I can pay for insurance I will pay, it’s just sometimes it’s difficult.”

While Washington State did pay for Basic Health, there is an option in the Affordable Care Act to create such a program in states using federal money. Washington State Representative Marcus Riccelli sponsored a bill this session that would have allocated money to study the possibility of implementing such a program.

Riccelli: “It was in the governors budget, the house budget, it was not ion the senate budget, it was something I wanted to see come out and I’ll continue to fight for it.”

It is expected that the basic health option for states could be available by 2016.The plan is still in the process of federal rulemaking.