This Washington

Sen. Keiser Wants to Use Tobacco Settlement Money to Fund Health Care

By Josh Feit March 29, 2012

In the midst of the bogged-down budget negotiations (which are in part bogged down over the GOP's proposal to zero out the $90 million Disability Lifeline for disabled adults and cut $5 million Basic Health Plan while the Democrats want to fully fund both), Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33, Des Moines), who isn't involved in the budget negotiations, actually introduced a bill that would address both issues late last week.

Keiser's bill would fully fund the Disability Lifeline—the only source of health care coverage for more than 20,000 disabled adults who are unable to work—and the BHP (and fund the state component of the Affordable Health Care Act) by bonding against tobacco settlement money.

Keiser, chair of the senate health care committee, calls the funding "a bridge." The money is only intended to pay for the Basic Health Plan and the Disability Lifeline through 2013 until the federal Affordable Health Care Act kicks in in 2014. Keiser says only the Medicaid expansion portion of the AHCA is germane to her plan; Obamacare expands Medicaid and would take over for the state when it comes to the BHP and the Disability Lifeline.

"Nobody complained when we expanded health care for kids," Keiser says, referring to a similar expansion of Medicaid, "including Republicans, parents, or children."

Keiser's bill, which only needs  simple majority to pass, comes with a referendum clause that sends it directly to a vote of the people.

"Maybe this idea will put some juice, some lubricant, into the budget negotiations," Keiser says, "we're at an impasse, and I wanted to put another option out there."

Budget negotiators are wrestling over about a $200 million difference—with the GOP set on suspending a $130 million state worker pension payment and the Democrats wanting to delay a $330 million schools payment by one day into the next budget cycle. "This is $200 million," Keiser says. However, she adds that she's been "disappointed in the reception" so far, noting that "it's hard to get any reception at all" because there's no caucusing or committee meetings right now. "It's just the budget writers in a room."

Keiser has three co-sponsors, two liberal Seattle legislators, Sens. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle) and Adam Kline (D-37, S. Seattle)—and super liberal Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-32, Shoreline).
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