The Associated Press May 12, 2011, 10:09AM ET

Washington state preps for federal health care law

Gov. Chris Gregoire approved several proposals Wednesday to prepare the state for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, even as Washington's attorney general challenges the law in court.

The new bills include a plan to create a state health insurance exchange, making Washington the fourth in the nation to prepare such a system. Obama's health care law requires states to have exchanges operating by 2014. The federal government will create one for states who do not do so.

Gregoire said the steps were necessary to help reform the nation's health care system, and she criticized Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna for challenging the federal law's constitutionality.

"Does everybody like the status quo in Washington state? Does everybody like the status quo in America?" Gregoire said. "We're bankrupting families. We're bankrupting businesses. We're bankrupting government."

McKenna, widely considered a leading candidate for governor next year, has signed on to a legal challenge in Florida that argues the federal law's mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance or pay a fine is unconstitutional.

Republican Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, also opposes the individual mandate. But she does support some of the major components of the federal health care law, including the exchanges, which says can empower individuals. She stood alongside Gregoire during Wednesday's bill signing.

"The exchange has some real important elements for those who right now have difficulty getting into a group plan that has any real value to them," Pflug said.

Other parts of the bills Gregoire approved extend insurance coverage to dependents under the age of 26 and prevent insurance companies from using pre-existing conditions to deny coverage to people under the age of 19. Those measures bring the state into line with the federal health care law.

Meanwhile, Gregoire also announced what she described as a "breakthrough" agreement that will give states access to some federal Medicare records. Gregoire cited the surge of costs among people who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare, but she said states have been unable to match up their Medicaid records with federal Medicare records -- until now.

Gregoire said the new information will help states coordinate care and prevent waste, such as when someone has a drug prescription under Medicare and another under Medicaid.

"It may sound boring and bureaucratic, but at the end of the day, it's real money and real health care for patients," she said.

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Mike Baker can be reached at https://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP


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