Jay Inslee, the two-term Governor of Washington, has put climate change front and center
in his floundering presidential campaign. He’s right to do so, since 82% of likely Democratic primary voters believe it is very important to take aggressive action to slow climate change, according
to an April poll commissioned by CNN.
Climate change alone, however, may not be enough to set Inslee apart in a crowded field of candidates—he’s polling at less than
1% and struggling
to even meet the 65,000 donor threshold to qualify for the first Democratic primary debate in June.
Thankfully for Inslee, Democrats also care strongly about healthcare. The same poll found that 75% of Democrats believe it is very important that the government provide health insurance to everyone, and on this subject Inslee can point to his record as governor to bolster his candidacy.
In May, Inslee signed
into law the country’s first “public option,” a set of government-backed standardized insurance plans, known as Cascade Care, available to all residents of Washington regardless of income. The legislation isn’t slated to go into effect until 2021, but the plan could provide a model for other states struggling to contain insurance premiums and provide universal coverage.
Cascade Care isn’t technically a “public option,” because the state will rely on
private insurance companies to implement, oversee, and administer the plan. Nevertheless, supporters of the bill argue the hybrid model obviates the need to create a new layer of bureaucracy and saves the state money by relying on an existing infrastructure.
The plan, which could be up to 10% cheaper than private plans on Washington’s health insurance exchange, saves patients money by capping reimbursement rates
to doctors and hospitals. The cap is set to 160% of Medicare, whose fee schedule is typically much lower
than the reimbursement rates offered by private plans.
Under the law, health-care providers aren’t required to accept the public option, and the reimbursement rate could change
if providers aren’t able to build a large enough network of physicians, especially in rural counties. Part of the impetus for the legislation was the number of rural counties in Washington that have struggled
to offer even one health insurance plan to residents.
The state will offer the tiered plans to all counties in Washington, and could, if funding is approved, provide subsidies to individuals and families up to 500% of the federal poverty line.
Inslee’s plan could eventually drive private insurers out of the market and lead, by necessity, to a government takeover of the healthcare market.
For his part, Inslee hasn’t been shy about leveraging the Washington plan to make an argument for a national healthcare system.
“It’s one of the reasons we did this public option plan, to demonstrate to the country we could get better coverage at a cheaper cost with public involvement. I think it will give people confidence to move to a Medicare-for-all system,” Inslee told
Vox’s Dylan Scott.