The Whole Washington I-1600 initiative campaign that is out collecting signatures now could make this an option for Washington State in 2019. If they obtain 260,000 signatures from registered voters by July 6, the measure will appear on the November ballot. The I-1600 plan is based on bills that have been stuck in the Washington legislature for many years, but it adds dedicated financing to form a healthcare trust held by the state and a transition plan to make the plan viable. The state plan would be secondary for residents with coverage through a federal plan, like Medicare. This is not a state takeover of healthcare, it is not socialized medicine. Healthcare would continue to be delivered in the private sector, but bills would be paid by the state instead of private insurance companies, with funds collected from the entire community, not only from businesses. Coverage includes all necessary medical, vision, dental and mental health services.
As an economist, I have studied healthcare systems for over 40 years. Over the last decade, I have participated in labor negotiations over healthcare, and have developed funding plans for healthcare programs in a dozen states and for the United States. Based on this experience, there is no doubt in my mind that a publicly-funded universal coverage plan that covers all residents is the best option for businesses. It would lift from business the burden of healthcare costs for workers and their families, a burden that should be borne by the entire community.
Businesses would contribute an 8.5% payroll tax to the Whole Washington Trust to fund healthcare for all Washington residents. An exemption would apply for earners making less than $60,000 a year. The plan saves an estimated $16 billion a year, with net savings of $9 billion after all residents are insured and administrative costs are covered. This plan would result in businesses paying less than half of the average 18% of payroll they pay today. The Whole Washington plan includes a special provision for small business relief for companies with less than 50 employees.
Creating a coverage model with a predictable, fixed cost would be a huge win for business. Decreasing your bottom line costs would make Washington businesses competitive on the global market with competitors who are already spared the burden of paying for their employees’ healthcare. For residents, having a plan unrelated to employment would provide the freedom to pursue innovation outside of the corporate environment without worrying about benefits. On the campaign website, businesses and individuals can enter their current healthcare costs into the Savings Estimator to see how much money the I-1600 plan would save them. My analysis predicts >90% of Washington residents would save under this plan.
Washington’s businesses need not wait for the rest of the country because Washington can lead the way to a better and more efficient healthcare system for the entire United States. While I would prefer a unified national plan for all Americans, universal coverage can start at the state level and Washington can capture the benefits of a more efficient and fairer healthcare finance system even while the rest of the United States continues to suffer under the inefficiency and inequity of private health insurance. National single payer advocates like myself are watching while Washington State leads the nation in making the right choice for businesses and residents. I am proud to have worked on the Whole Washington I-1600 initiative and I hope you join this grassroots effort to give voters a choice this fall. With the Washington insurance commissioner announcing an average premium increase of 19% in 2019 and the Trump administration challenging pre-existing conditions protections in court this month, now is the time to act. Please visit www.yeson1600.org today.