This Washington

Washington's Basic Health Plan Likely to Win Federal Funding

By Camden Swita March 29, 2010

At a press conference in Olympia today, US Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Gov. Chris Gregoire said today that Washington’s Basic Health Plan will likely get a much-needed shot in the arm from Obama’s health care bill.

The Basic Health Plan is a state-funded program that provides affordable health insurance to residents making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (just over $44,000 for a family of four). Like many state programs, it’s taken a huge funding hit in the past two years. The Health Care Authority (HCA), which administers the program, had to reduce enrollment in Basic Health by 43 percent in 2009 and 2010, reducing the number of people it insures from 107,000 to just under 70,000. As a result, the waiting list for the program has swelled to more than 90,000 people, with 300 new people applying daily.

Language written into the health-care bill by Cantwell, however, will likely shift 65 percent, or up to $180 million a year, of the state’s responsibility to the federal government, allowing budget writers to either dedicate more money to Basic Health this year or to spend it elsewhere, said John Diamond, a spokesman for Cantwell’s office.

Although the governor, House and Senate all maintained funding for Basic Health in their most recent budget proposals, the federal money will lend stability to a program that has been entirely state-funded for more than 20 years. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has said the Senate has already booked this federal money in their budget—wagering correctly that Obama’s health care bill would pass—so this doesn’t change the bottom line for them.

Melinda McCrady, spokeswoman for Washington state House Democrats, said that her caucus and the governor’s office are both confident that Washington will get the funding in early 2011.