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The commission to explore universal health care in WA is behind schedule

Washington State is behind schedule for establishing a Universal Health Care Commission, which is tasked with exploring ways to implement universal coverage for residents. 

The commission was created by the legislature last session, and went into effect on July 25. It was supposed to hold its first meeting within 90 days, a benchmark which passed last week. The commission consists of 14 members, seven of which are appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee. But as of Oct. 28, those positions remained vacant

Mike Faulk, deputy director of communications for the governor’s office, said they are hoping to have their appointments processed by the end of next week. The commission will also include four representatives from the legislature, two from each party. The commission is set to hold its first meeting in November, Faulk said.

During the last legislative session, the Alliance for a Healthy Washington supported the creation of the commission. Bevin McLeod, co-founder of the Alliance, said the commission is a significant step towards creating universal health care in the state, and differs from similar commissions in other states. 

“It is permanent,” McLeod said. “I think the mandate is very clear that it’s not just a study, but it’s to actually synthesize the existing analysis that has already been done to ready the state for a transition.” 

The commission must submit its first report to the governor and legislature by November 2022. A key provision in the bill is that state agencies can begin implementing recommendations from the commission if they have the authority to do so, McLeod said.  

Sen. Annette Cleveland, chair of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, said the Health Care Authority has hired staff to begin work on the commission. 

“I’m feeling as if we’re working at all levels to make sure we’re continuing as a state to drive towards universal health coverage,” Cleveland said in previous coverage

Part of the bill requires the state’s Health Care Authority to begin submitting applications for federal waivers, and McLeod said her organization is working with members of Congress to make that process easier. One such piece of legislation is the State-Based Universal Care Act, which was reintroduced in June by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), and supported by Washington State Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith. 

The act in part would streamline the process for states to apply for waivers from certain federal requirements, and would modify the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to allow states to implement a comprehensive universal health care plan. It would also allow multiple states to apply together, laying the groundwork for regional universal health care. 

McLeod said they’re talking with legislators from Washington, Oregon and California to gauge interest in a regional universal health care plan. 

“Obviously, we have folks that live in Oregon but work across in Washington State, and vice versa,” McLeod said.

While the idea of universal health care has grown in popularity in recent years, in part due to the presidential campaigns by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), there’s few signs that there is the political will in Congress to create a federal universal or single payer health care system.

McLeod said a state-by-state or regional approach may prove more successful.

“I think often states are incubators for change,” she said. “We have state constitutions for a reason. We have state legislatures for a reason.”

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