Last year, in her State of the State speech, Gov. Chris Gregoire praised the work U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell was doing on the pending federal health care reform bill. To help address a $2.6 billion shortfall, Gregoire was faced with cutting back the Basic Health Plan, a popular 20-year old state program which provides health care to 56,000 low-income people. Cantwell was working on a provision in the health care bill that would rush federal dollars to support the endangered program.
Cantwell was eventually successful, getting a provision into the big health care bill—"the early expansion option"—that would get health care money to states like Washington that had already expanded low-income health care coverage to the level that the Obama bill would mandate for 2014. With Cantwell's provision, states like Washington could continue to support broader coverage before the fed health care bill kicked in.
(Currently, federal Mediciad covers people making up to 65 percent of the federal poverty level and the health care bill will push that to 133 percent. Washington State's BHP already covers people making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level—$29,000 for a family of two.)
Washington State had to apply for a waiver to get the early option money. And did.
This week, the feds announced that Washington State was entitled to $7.7 million a month, which would cover $117 million of the $442 million BHP. (State dollars cover $230 million and BHP members pay about $95 million.)
However, this year, facing a $4.6 billion budget shortfall, Gregoire's budget completely cuts the BHP. No BHP: No federal matching money.
"The second we get federal money is not the time to cut the Basic Health Plan," says Molly Firth, a policy staffer with Community Health Networks of Washington.
Gregoire's office has not yet returned a call for comment, but in a press statement about the federal award, she said:
"Our state’s fiscal crisis has grown since we originally asked for this waiver. Our options are limited, and we can no longer afford to support the safety net we once did. We will need to see if there are ways in the future to use this waiver.”