Gregoire: eliminate state's Basic Health program for poor

Nov 24, 2010

Eliminating the state's health insurance program for the poor is on Governor Chris Gregoire's list of proposed budget cuts.  Her proposal also includes cuts to education programs benefiting gifted children and financial help for revenue-poor school districts.

Gregoire laid out her ideas in a letter sent Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane).

The state is facing a projected $6 billion shortfall in the 2011-13 budget.  But it also must slash $400 million from the current budget, which ends in June, due to reduced tax collections.  Dismantling Basic Health would recoup almost $34 million dollars. The program covers roughly 100,000 people in Washington.

Advocates for the program have said getting rid of Basic Health will cost the state money in the long run with more uninsured seeking care in hospital emergency rooms. When cuts were proposed earlier this year, Carlos Olivares of the Yakima Farm Workers Clinic told the Yakima Herald-Republic:

"Basic Health is targeted to hard-working people. It would be criminal to yank it from them," said Olivares.

The governor is expected to call a special legislative session in December to deal with the budget crisis. In Gregoire's letter, she called for urgency, according to the Seattle

Gregoire said "another round of across-the-board cuts will not get it done. ... We need to make sustainable policy and budget decisions that are reflective of current revenue. ... There are only seven months left in the biennium, and delay will result in deeper cuts and additional harm. Frankly, we have run out of time."

The's Chris Grygiel writes the proposal includes these cuts:

  • Delay financial aid funding to 2012 for State Need college grants, saving $76 million.
  • Eliminate the Basic Health Program on Feb. 1, saving $33.7 million
  • Eliminate state funding for more resources for grades K-4 on Sept. 1, saving $81.5 million.
  • Reduce the levy equalization -- by which poorer school districts receive additional funds -- by 6.3 percent, saving $18 million.
  • Eliminate the state-only food assistance program on Feb. 1, saving $9.6 million.
  • Eliminate the highly capable student funds for next year, saving $7 million.

After the latest sobering state revenue forecast was announced last week, Gregoire made it clear in a press statement that clear unpopular proposals were the next step: 

All options are on the table, but to reach the savings we need, significant choices will need to be made. 

Prior to the latest revenue forecasts, some Republican lawmakers had called for Gregoire to convene a session dedicated to the budget.  In a Vancouver Columbian article in September, Clark County lawmaker Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-Ridgefield) said calling a session made sense to him at the time:

“We can make policy and structural changes that would focus the available revenue on the most essential services, and leave enough in reserve to get the state through June, when the biennium ends,” Zarelli said in a statement. “We can also adopt reforms that would help when it’s time to write the 2011-13 budget.”

In response, Rep.  Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) said the request was political grandstanding, and charged the Republicans with not having a budget plan to put out for review.