Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
"Cover the Uninsured Week" Town Hall Meeting
March 10, 2003

Good evening.

Thank you Dave for that introduction.

And thanks to all of you for being here tonight to show your concern and support.

We gather today because we face a health care crisis in our state and across our nation.

After incredible progress over the last 10 years when uninsured dropped from 13% down to 9% a few years ago, the uninsured rate is rising in Washington, up to almost 11%.

We now have close to 650,000 people in our state who are uninsured.

There are many misconceptions about uninsured people. If we were to provide a snapshot of the uninsured, these are the 3 main groups: 1) children-25% 2) working adults many below 200% poverty, many with out children 3) early retirees 55-65.

I’d like to share some of what we know about the uninsured in our state.

About one-quarter of the uninsured are children—just over 8% of those under age 19 in our state are uninsured.

We face both eligibility and enrollment challenges.

About 60% of the children who are uninsured in our state are below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Most or all of these children are eligible for some kind of coverage, but they are not enrolled.

They are not enrolled because their parents don’t know they are eligible, or because there are both real and perceived difficulties in enrolling.

We need to work harder to get already available assistance to those who need it.

We know that people without health insurance go without adequate medical care.

We know that what little care they do get usually comes too late.

We know that they are likely to be sicker and likely to die sooner.

And even when they are hospitalized, we know that the care they receive will be poorer than what insured patients get.

We know that insurance would reduce mortality rates in this group.

We know that if these people had the better health that comes with insurance coverage, their annual earnings would improve by 10-30%.

For people without insurance, life and livelihood are at stake.

We have a strong track record in health care.

We have done much good in our state.

We have been national leaders in health care.

We’ve led the nation in extending coverage to our most vulnerable citizens through Medicaid, Basic Health, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

We’ve reformed the individual health insurance market to provide incentives for insurance Co. and HMO’s to offer coverage to individuals and to cover the high risk and encourage more companies to enter the market!

We’ve forced that market to be more accessible and more affordable.

And we’ve addressed consumer insurance issues through the Patient’s Bill of Rights.

We know we can’t change the economic hardships we face as a state.

Continuing high unemployment only adds to the numbers of the uninsured.

It’s hard to have insurance when you haven’t got a job, and there are too many people out of work in our state and tough economy is causing many employers to cut back on or eliminate health insurance for their employees.

But we are doing our best to try to sustain as much of our health care system gains as we can.

Budget proposal calls for reducing basic health plan coverage by 60,000.

We’re looking at ways to get as much as we can from the revenue we have, and ways to make more revenue available.

We’re working on a redesign of the Basic Health Benefit to try to cover as many of our most vulnerable people as possible.

The redesign would give coverage to an additional 11,000 people.

My goal is to use these additional coverage slots for the working poor, especially those who face the loss of badly needed Basic Health benefits.

Plus looking at new revenues to keep as many people on basic health plan and as close to current 131,000 enrollee.

We’re also doing everything we can to get a prescription drugs bill through this session.

Seniors in our state should never have to choose between paying the rent and paying for medicine.

The cost of prescriptions is a major component in the skyrocketing cost of health care.

Insurance coverage without prescription drug assistance fails to recognize the realities of health care.

Coverage needs to keep up with the evolution of medical treatment.

The legislation we’ve proposed would, set up a prescription drug-purchasing consortium, and establish a senior prescription drug information clearinghouse. Already developing, a preferred drug list for Medicaid state employees workers compensation to save money by administrative action.

We’re also seeking a federal waiver allowing our state the single benefit of prescription drug coverage to low-income seniors through the Medicaid program.

We need to continue to find ways to provide adequate reimbursement rates for medical providers- doctors, hospitals, pharmacists and even nursing homes- under both medicare and medicade- if the insurance system is to work effectively.

Finally we know that to help those without insurance, the Administration and Congress must also step up to this national problem.

States are struggling to recover from the worst budget shortfall in fifty years.

Skyrocketing health care expenses and Medicaid costs are a major factor in this budget problem.

The solution must include the federal government.

We need a nationally crafted solution that clarifies the roles and relationships of national and state governments, medical providers, communities, and citizens.

We need to approach this problem holistically, not piecemeal.

That’s the only way we will ever reach lasting solutions.

Today is the beginning of an important week.

It will be a week of helping those people all around and among us who are not protected by insurance.

We need action on this problem today, in Washington D.C. and in every state.

And for our part in Washington state, let’s continue to work together to find ways to help the uninsured.

All of Washington’s citizens deserve good health and adequate medical care.

We must do all that we can as a state to accept our share of responsibility for health care.

Thank you.

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