Lawmaker questions implementing health care law provisions

Republicans in Congress are trying to repeal it.

A federal judge has ruled it unconstitutional.

Several states are trying to be excused from it.

With the uncertainty surrounding the 11-month-old federal health care reform act, Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is questioning whether Washington should spend money to implement provisions of the law at a time when the state faces a $4.6 billion deficit for the 2011-13 biennium.

"The fact is nobody knows anything right now," Schmick told the Herald. "Everything is so up in the air. I think we are not being prudent moving in any direction until we get some certainty. It is not a wise use of taxpayer money."

Schmick introduced House Bill 1804 this week to prohibit the use of state money to implement the federal law.

"Rather than losing time, effort and money by focusing on a federal law that looks more and more unconstitutional each day, state leaders should be working toward state-level solutions that bring quality, affordable health care to our working families here in this Washington."

Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, disagreed. She told an estimated 10,000 participants on a conference call with the state chapter of AARP on Thursday that she wants to see health care reform implemented as soon as possible.

"I want to take full advantage of health reform," Gregoire said. "Reform in my opinion means no one has to go without coverage. I have proposed that we move forward on health reform in this legislative session."

Gregoire said she worries that if the reform law goes away, hundreds of thousands of Washington seniors will have to pay more for regular check-ups and preventive screenings through Medicare, and to pay back the $250 rebate many of them received to help pay for prescription drugs.

But Schmick worries that no one seems to know how much it's costing the state to implement mandates in the federal reform law.

He said as ranking Republican on the House Health Care & Wellness Committee he has yet to see a cost figure for health reform.

"We really have not gotten good numbers supplied to us," he said.

Representatives with the state's Office of Financial Management -- which oversees budget figures -- also could not produce a cost figure this week.

Schmick said by introducing a stand-alone bill barring the use of state money, someone will have to compile a fiscal note showing what the cost of health reform is to Washington state government.

The bill so far is supported by nine of Schmick's fellow Republicans, including Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum; Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake; and Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, all of whom represent districts covering the Mid-Columbia.

The bill has not been set for a committee hearing -- a necessary step before it can be considered by the full House of Representatives.