I would like to take this opportunity to comment on one of the most important budget decisions that I advocated successfully for over strong opposition from many members and lobbying sectors. This is the incorporation of the acceptance of the Affordable Health Care Act and funding of the Washington State Health Benefit Exchange Program into the 2013 Operating Budget.
While I do not embrace all the features of the Affordable Health Care Act, this led to hundreds of millions of dollars in state savings from increased use of federal Medicaid funds and helped balance a deficit budget. However, it is not the main benefit.
As The Olympian recently reported by Donna Blankinship from the Associated Press, the numbers of new Medicaid-eligible recipients that have signed up through the Exchange have almost doubled estimates, from a goal of 136,000 to more than 200,000. But more importantly, more than 100,000 low-income residents who were previously eligible and never signed up are now enrolled.
Prior to our budget decision to embrace the Affordable Health Care Act, fully fund the Health Benefit Exchange, and expand Medicaid eligibility to remove the stigma of having to be singled out through the Disability Lifeline or Basic Health Plan, the only answer to a health care safety net was to raise the income threshold — from 100 percent to 200 percent of poverty level and up.
We did nothing to ensure that all our residents on the lowest income levels had access to affordable health care. Now we do.