Opinion

Creativity in Olympia can lead to meaningful education and lower health care costs for you

Some say health care reform is needed now. Some say leave it alone. While I don’t support government-run plans, I do think there are solutions for decreasing costs and increasing access. At the same time we debate health care reform around the country, elected officials in Washington struggle with a workable education funding formula that ensures all students receive the same opportunities around the state. I find it interesting that the decision makers in our state and nation can’t connect the dots.

Recently, I attended a community meeting where one of my House colleagues discussed inadequate education funding. The only answers he had were to either raise taxes, or cut programs.

While education remains the paramount duty of the state as mandated by our state constitution, we see blows to education budgets every year. Just this year, the Legislature voted to cut $600 million from funding for reduced classroom sizes. I opposed this move as I have heard from many of you that these cuts hurt children the most. Though the federal stimulus back-filled this cut with $362 million in one-time dollars, we still saw teachers lose their jobs and more children squeezed into full classrooms in recent weeks.

At the same time, health care costs are increasing, workers lose their insurance when they lose or change jobs, and the neediest are being forgotten. While the federal government works on a nationwide plan, there is a statewide plan with some fresh ideas. Our plan moves government mandates out of the way, increases choice, allows people to purchase basic insurance that covers their greatest needs, and reduces costs. This isn’t a government-sponsored plan, and it’s not a status-quo plan. It’s a give-people-the-freedom-to-choose-what-they-need plan.

Our state is set to spend $5.2 billion on health care in the 2009-2011 budget. The federal government will spend an additional $4.2 billion on health care in our state. Last month, I attended a meeting in Chicago with 70 representatives from 30 different states. While each state has a different approach to health care reform, we agreed that health care costs affect our states’ budgets more than any other budget item.

If we can provide meaningful, comprehensive health care reform, I don’t think we would need to cut programs or ask for more taxes to fully fund education. Reform of the Basic Health Plan (BHP) is one example. I supported a bipartisan measure this year in Olympia that would have saved the state $300 million every two years by transforming the BHP to serve the truly needy and offer subsidies to other residents to purchase private health insurance. But the bill didn’t receive a public hearing.

What we really need is bold leadership and real solutions within the funding taxpayers are already providing. With this year’s budget deficit came talks of cuts. The BHP was one program that suffered. The state Health Care Authority chose to increase insurance premiums, pushing the neediest off state-subsidized health care and keeping on those who can afford private insurance plans. There are two serious problems with this.

One, this means our state can only provide for the neediest during good economic times. Talk about backwards. And two, families who can afford private insurance are choosing the state-subsidized plan because it’s cheaper, putting a greater burden on taxpayers.

When deciding where to find additional education funding, the state need not look further than the debate raging around the country: health care reform. In addition, we must prioritize education in our budget. Then we’ll see a more skilled workforce, reduced crime and more citizens who can thrive in this state.

Representative Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, represents the state’s 44th Legislative District. He serves on the Education and Education Appropriations Committees in the House of Representatives. He can be contacted at www.houserepublicans.wa.gov/hope.

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