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House Democrats unveil plan to save basic health

These are uneasy times for the 56,000 Washingtonians on the Basic Health Plan. The state-subsidized health insurance program is tentatively slated to end March 1st. But House Democrats presented a Hail Mary proposal to possibly save it.

Washington's current two-year budget is still $600,000,000 out of whack. Finding hundreds of millions of dollars in savings between now and the end of the fiscal cycle in June is no easy task.

So both Governor Chris Gregoire and House Democrats propose to end state funding for the Basic Health Plan starting March 1st. But lawmakers aren't willing to give up just yet on the popular program.

House Budget Chair Ross Hunter says voters might be asked in November to approve a permanent funding source for Basic Health. In the meantime, they'd have to find temporary stop-gap dollars from foundations or elsewhere:

"That will have to be made with private contributions and if we can get there and that makes sense to do a referendum around the Basic Health Plan, that's where we will get to."

But Hunter says the idea of a November ballot measure is still very preliminary. Under the Democratic proposal, funding for Basic Health would also come from the federal government plus premiums and co-pays from clients.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.