Last month, in a move that went largely unnoticed by the national media, Washington Governor Jay Inslee started moving toward universal health care. On January 8, Governor Inslee proposed the expansion of subsidies for private insurance, allowing those who have fallen through the cracks of the Affordable Care Act to obtain coverage through the state’s health care exchange. Governor Inslee’s proposal would also give the Evergreen State’s health care agency the authority to begin planning for a “public option,” although it will not be able to implement such a program immediately.
The proposal has been criticized by state lawmakers of both major parties. On one side are Republicans who worry about the costs and the impact on the business interests they serve. On the other hand, there are health care advocates and their Democratic allies who say Governor Inslee’s ideas do not go far enough. Currently, there is a bill in the state capital of Olympia calling for a study on making the transition from private insurance to a single-payer system funded by the state.
If Governor Inslee’s proposed bill makes it through the legislature and is signed into law, Washington’s health care agency would have less than two years to come up with a way to expand individual subsidies. It would also require Olympia to enter into a contract with a private insurance company that can offer two subsidized health care plans across the state. Under this proposed plan, Washingtonians who make less than approximately $62,000 per year for a family of four would qualify for subsidies.
Today, that would include two-thirds of the state’s residents. Those covered by private insurance would not have to pay more than 10 percent of their income on premiums. A plan contracted by the state would cost individuals even less.
Defending his hybrid plan to critics who want to see universal, taxpayer-funded health care immediately, Governor Inslee echoed President Obama’s sentiments during debates over the ACA, saying, “It’s something that’s achievable now, and I’d like to make progress now.”
While it seems like a very small, incremental step and does little to address the health care crisis on a national level, it should be recalled that the people of Canada fought for decades before their national health care system finally became a reality. Baptist minister Tommy Douglas, who is revered today as Canada’s national hero, left his pulpit for politics in the 1930s after seeing first-hand the human cost of inability to access medical services. As Premier of the province of Saskatchewan, Douglas implemented North America’s first universal, publicly-funded health care plan in 1962. However, it was more than two decades before his program was adopted across the Dominion.
It is too early to tell how events in Washington State will play out over the next two years – but in light of history, along with the increasing demands among Americans for a health care system that puts people over profits and the Evergreen State’s record as a bastion of Progressive policy, it is possible that Governor Inslee could one day be remembered as America’s own Tommy Douglas.