​​Washington leaders blame hospitals for slow uptake of public option

As it enters its second year of offering a public health insurance option, Washington state is blaming hospital resistance for the program's slow adoption, according to a Feb. 21 NPR report. 

The bill enacting the public option was introduced in 2019, and since then, only 25 of the state's 39 counties offer plans. 

Lawmakers point fingers at providers for their resistance, which set up hurdles for the program's rollout. State Rep. Eileen Cody told NPR that hospital resistance to joining networks for public health plans is "a big part of the problem." 

The Washington State Hospital Association said the majority of hospitals are not joining public-option health plan networks because the program slashes reimbursements to providers to control costs. 

"If patients opt to join a public-option plan rather than private insurance, over time it could create financial challenges, especially for small, rural providers operating on thin margins," Chelene Whiteaker, Washington State Hospital Association senior vice president of government affairs, told NPR.

To navigate resistance, lawmakers approved a mandate that requires hospitals to contract with public-option plans if they are not available in every country in 2022. The rule goes into effect in 2023. 

In the interim, Washington lawmakers have seen enrollment increase because of pandemic-era insurance subsidies offered by the federal government. The state has earmarked funds to create subsidies of its own, but has not determined how it will distribute the funds yet. 

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