Could single-payer health care come to Washington state? One lawmaker wants to find out

OLYMPIA — As California lawmakers debate creating a universal health-care system, one Washington state legislator thinks it’s time to examine the option here.

Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, said she intends to introduce a mirror version of California’s single-payer bill into the Washington Legislature.

“It’s being drafted right now,” Chase said Friday, adding later: “People have a right to health care.”

Republicans control the state Senate, and lawmakers have already gone into overtime trying to fund K-12 education and write a state operating budget.

So a single-payer health-care system is unlikely to materialize this year.

But Chase’s proposal could spark a debate on what Washington should do about health care.

Her idea comes as Republicans at the federal level attempt to roll back the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.

Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians could lose health coverage under the GOP replacement proposal in U.S. Congress, according to state analysis earlier this year.

Both the California proposal and any Washington plan share at least one key riddle: how they would be paid for.

Implementing universal health care in California could require between $50 billion and $100 billion of new tax revenue per year, according to a legislative analysis of the plan.

That proposal doesn’t come with funding, something that California lawmakers were discussing this week.

Chase said she doesn’t have specific ideas on how to fund a proposal in Washington. But lawmakers could be use it as an opportunity to make Washington’s tax system less regressive, she added.

Republicans are likely to respond coolly toward Chase’s ambitious plan.

“I’m a private-market kind of person; I think we’ve over-regulated so much that we’ve caused a lot of these issues in the first place,” said Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville and vice chair of the Senate Health Care Committee.

But Becker said she’s open to discussing how to make Washington’s health-care policy work better.

“There needs to be a change,” she said. “But I’m not sure the single-payer methodology is the only thing we should be looking at.”

Chase’s proposal comes as a handful of lawmakers introduce last-minute bills in Olympia.

This week, Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, and Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, each introduced bills to privatize The Evergreen State College, in the wake of acrimony over race and speech issues.

But legislators are coming down to the wire on producing a court-ordered K-12 school-funding plan and writing a new budget.

If that isn’t completed by the end of the month, Washington could face a July 1 state government shutdown and further sanctions from the state Supreme Court.

- Joseph O'Sullivan, Seattle Times Olympia Bureau