Don't let the AG derail health reform that benefits everyone
Attorney General Rob McKenna's challenge of the new federal health-care law is disappointing, writes Mona Smith, president of the Greater Seattle Business Association. reform is especially critical for the LGBT community, which benefits considerably from eliminating lifetime maximums and pre-existing conditions.
Special to The Times
FOR the past year, the nation has been abuzz about health-care reform. For many of us, the new health-care law is not the reform or the law we were promised or for which we held out hope.
It does not contain a public option nor does it contain Congressman Jim McDermott's amendment that would have eliminated the imputed income tax many of us pay for the privilege of covering our domestic partners in our health-care plans. It also hampers a woman's right to choose.
But, this new law is a fresh start and, the White House and some congressional leaders promise, there will be more legislation moving us toward greater health-care reform.
That's why Attorney General Rob McKenna's challenge of the new law is disappointing.
The Greater Seattle Business Association has championed health-care reform on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and business communities for the past several years. Health-care reform is especially critical for the LGBT community. As a community, we considerably benefit from eliminating lifetime maximums and pre-existing conditions.
About four years ago, the business association was the lone chamber of commerce to endorse state mental-health parity legislation. We knew that mental-health coverage would benefit our LGBT youth who suffer higher suicide rates, those affected by HIV/AIDS, and those facing obstacles because they are LGBT.
We also recognized that this bill was good for business and would increase workplace productivity and reduce absenteeism. With our support, mental-health parity became law.
A couple of years ago, when the business association was looking for a health-care trust to provide affordable health-care plans for its member businesses, we discovered that Washington law excluded "businesses of one" from participating in small-group plans. As a result, the smallest of businesses are forced to pay higher rates for individual plans that are similar to or contain less coverage than group plans.
We saw this as unfair and knew the law needed to be changed. The association talked with state legislators and the governor. Last year, the business association joined what is now the Main Street Alliance to work on national and state health-care reform. We lobbied in Olympia and the Legislature redefined a small business from one having two to 50 employees to one having one to 50 employees, thereby allowing "businesses of one" access to group health insurance plans and more-affordable rates.
Our state Legislature tied implementation of the redefinition to passage of national health-care reform that included the elimination of pre-existing conditions. The stakes became even higher for Washington — there are about 400,000 "businesses of one" in the state.
Now that President Obama has signed the health-care bill into law, it appears McKenna wants to unwind the progress made and benefits conferred. When attending a GSBA candidate forum, then-candidate McKenna told us that the position of attorney general is nonpartisan and he promised to represent all Washingtonians. McKenna is now out of step with the people and legislators of Washington.
There is bipartisan support for health-care reform in our state Legislature. The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan redefinition of small business health-care bill, which was co-sponsored by Sens. Karen Keiser and Cheryl Pflug, a Democrat and Republican. In committee hearings, I heard both parties voice support for health-care reform and say that Washington state could lead the way for Washington, D.C.
Playing partisan politics will result in harm to Washington families and businesses. More than 400,000 small businesses will lose access to more-affordable group health insurance. With this redefinition, these businesses should qualify for federal health care tax credits, which could also be lost.
This is the time to move forward, not backward. McKenna should not sacrifice Washington families and businesses for his partisan politics.Mona Smith is president of the Greater Seattle Business Association.