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Originally published Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 4:28 PM

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U.S. Supreme Court won't be last word on health reform in Washington state

Whatever the Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act, writes state Sen. Karen Keiser, legislators here must be leaders in developing innovative solutions to improve the affordability, security and quality of health care for Washington state families.

Special to The Times

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THIS month, the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. But what the justices decide will not be the last word on health reform. Nor will it deter this state from our mission of making affordable, quality health care available to all Washingtonians.

If critical protections that we currently have in place are set aside by the court, we will need to ensure that our state policy initiatives restore critical insurance reforms that are helping Washingtonians even now.

The Affordable Care Act has already brought more fairness to health-insurance rules. As members of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, we have heard from countless Washingtonians desperately seeking care but continuously coming up short.

River Curtis-Stanley of Port Orchard had kidney failure in 2008. She started dialysis and subsequently underwent a lifesaving transplant. Today she is healthy, but undergoes regular visits with her transplant team and must take costly medications.

River was fortunate enough to qualify for a special temporary program to help cover the cost of her medical services for kidney patients. But within two years, her coverage will run out. If the Supreme Court repeals the Affordable Care Act, she will be forced to search for coverage on the private insurance market. Her prognosis will be grim. If the act is upheld, River will be able to get affordable health care and medications through our state's new health-care exchange by January 2014.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, reverting back to the status quo is simply unacceptable. To date, the Affordable Care Act has helped more than 700 Washingtonians with pre-existing conditions buy health insurance after they were initially rejected.

More than 50,000 young adults have been able to stay on their parents' health-insurance plans up to age 26. Critical preventive services without costly co-payments have been provided to more than 1.2 million Washingtonians because of the act.

Whatever the court rules, state legislators in our state must continue to be leaders in developing innovative solutions to improve the affordability, security and quality of health care for families across our state.

So far, no fewer than 33 states have enacted some of the consumer protections of federal health-care reform at the state level — and Washington has led the way. This year, we passed landmark legislation to implement a health-insurance exchange marketplace to expand coverage to address this crisis. It's estimated that at least 300,000 to 400,000 Washingtonians, who currently do not have coverage, will be able to purchase affordable health insurance through this exchange.

If the act is upheld, we will begin enrolling individuals and small businesses in the fall of 2013. The exchange, coupled with the Medicaid expansion, will be a major step toward covering the uninsured and reducing the burden of uncompensated care.

The Affordable Care Act provided momentum that will make real change inevitable, regardless of what the court rules.

As state legislators, we should not let Washington revert to a system where insurance companies cherry-picked which Americans received access to health insurance. If the act is struck down, we must take action at the legislative level to ensure that these protections remain law.

State Sen. Karen Keiser is chair of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee. She represents parts of South King County.

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