Health care policies sold in Washington must honor existing patient protections even if those standards are eliminated by action taken at the federal level, under legislation passed Monday by the state Legislature.

House Bill 1870 had passed the House on March 1, but the Senate amended it to include an emergency clause last week after the U.S. Justice Department asked 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to uphold an earlier Texas court ruling that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. That ruling, which is under appeal, would rescind the ACA and a wide range of important consumer protections. The emergency clause, which required the House pass the bill a second time, means Washington’s law will take effect immediately upon its signing by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“We know the Trump administration has vowed repeatedly to repeal the ACA, and last week’s actions prompted us to get these protections into law as quickly as possible,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), who sponsored the amendment to add the emergency clause. “We’re just a signature away from protecting Washingtonians from losing the health care they need, regardless of what the White House or the courts do.”

As chair of the Senate Health Care Committee, Cleveland has made protecting and maintaining the gains made in health care coverage for citizens in Washington state a priority. 

“Washington State has benefited from the federal Affordable Care Act that put in place health insurance protections families and individuals have come to depend on, including no longer facing the threat of losing coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or due to reaching a lifetime spending cap,” said Cleveland. “As a result, our state’s uninsured rate has dropped 61%, and the number of adults gaining coverage grew by 800,000.”

Cleveland sponsored identical companion legislation in the Senate, ensuring that Washingtonians’ health care coverage would be protected regardless of which chamber passed its legislation.

“In the face of continued efforts at the federal level to roll back this progress, it was crucial for us to take action now to bring key components of these health reforms into state law,” she said. “I am pleased our citizens can now have greater certainty that their health care coverage is not in jeopardy.”

House Bill 1870 requires that any health care plan sold in Washington state provide numerous consumer protections, including:

  • Strict annual limits on out-of-pocket costs to consumers, such as copays and deductibles;
  • Coverage cannot be denied based on a consumer’s existing medical condition;
  • Guarantees that patients can’t be dropped from coverage, except in cases of fraud;
  • Prevents patients from being charged more based on their health status;
  • Providers cannot cap the maximum cost of coverage or benefits in a patient’s lifetime; and
  • Provides patients with a standardized summary of benefits so they can more clearly understand what is covered.

The bill also codifies requirements for: outpatient care; emergency services; hospitalization; pregnancy, maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance abuse treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative services and equipment; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; reproductive care; breastfeeding; and pediatric services.

“This critical legislation will reassure Washingtonians that no one in the other Washington can eliminate their right to get the health care they need and deserve, for themselves and for their families,” Cleveland said. “We’re not going to let anyone play politics with people’s health care, at least not in Washington state.”