Amid health care debate in Olympia, ‘people are dying’

OLYMPIA — If you didn’t hear about this week’s compelling testimony by Jaydra Cope of Spokane about the dire need for affordable, accessible health care insurance in Washington State, then you missed a brave mother putting a human face on a tragedy too often described by statistics. That face belonged to her brother, Delton, a 23-year-old restaurant worker who died from a congenital heart defect he couldn’t afford to have diagnosed, much less treated.

Watch her testimony (please bear with TVW’s audio difficulties):

Cope’s testimony at the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee hearing on Feb. 20 occurred amid technical testimony on a very complex set of issues regarding implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, consumer and labor advocates, and some health care providers and plans are supporting passage of HB 2319 — sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Seattle) and Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) in the Senate — which would establish minimum standards for health plans in 2014, the year that the state’s Health Benefits Exchange will be established. Without such standards, bare-bones cut-rate coverage offered on the open private insurance market — which will operate outside the realm of the exchange — will cream the healthiest customers from the market, prohibitively driving up the costs of the plans within the exchange. (Learn more.)

Lobbyists for a few of the larger health insurance companies in Washington oppose HB 2319 and prefer to have the state adhere to the minimum federal requirements set forth in the Affordable Care Act — a law they have adamantly opposed from the outset and continually erected roadblocks to slow its implementation. They oppose customizing state rules regarding the types of plans and levels of coverage offered in Washington’s exchange to ensure its affordability and sustainability, which is what HB 2319 would do. And a Spokesman-Review report this week suggested that these insurers are intent on killing HB 2319, not amending it.

HB 2319 passed the House, 52-43, on a largely party-line vote. On Thursday, it passed out of the Senate committee that heard Jaydra Cope’s testimony. And now it faces a Senate floor vote.

This debate could determine whether health care reform succeeds or fails in Washington. That should not be a partisan issue. As Jaydra reminded state legislators this week, it’s about whether lives like Delton’s will be saved in the future or whether we will continue to allow those lives to be needlessly lost.

“People are dying,” Jaydra told the Spokesman-Review. “If telling the story of my brother saves even one person, it’s worth it.”

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