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Inside Olympia — Exit Interviews with Pam MacEwan, Pat Sullivan

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Pam MacEwan is retiring as CEO of Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange, which is the state’s online shopping center for health insurance coverage — for those who are not covered by public health care or employer insurance, and need to buy private insurance on their own.

Since joining the HBE a decade ago, she has been focused on expanding access to health care for Washingtonians. After the latest sign up period, about a quarter million state residents buy insurance through the exchange. But, MacEwan says, perhaps an equal number of people in our state still are uninsured.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the exchange in recent years was the introduction of the online website which people have to navigate to buy insurance. Getting that system off the ground, given the tens of thousands of people accessing the site, was a huge endeavor, with MacEwan and the HBE under a media microscope.

MacEwan says in terms of access to coverage, the passage of the Affordable Care Act was a game-changer. A more recent change, passed by the WA Legislature, is the Cascade Care Plans, which are health insurance plans offered by state government rather than private insurers.

Representative Pat Sullivan is stepping down from the State House after nearly two decades in office, a dozen of those years as Democratic Majority Leader, first to long-time Speaker Frank Chopp, and more recently to Speaker Laurie Jinkins. He talks about the role of majority leader and his duties in that important position.

Sullivan said he ran for the Legislature due to an interest in education funding — and the WA Supreme Court’s “McCleary” decision made sure he wasn’t disappointed: Sullivan played a key role in the years-long legislative effort to comply with that decision, which decided the Legislature was not fulfilling its primary constitutional duty to fully fund public schools.

The legislative decisions over McCleary funding were largely made in the context of the state budget, in which Sullivan also played a key role as a negotiator. In addition, there was the recession of 2007-2009, which made funding of all state services a challenge, not just schools, and the fact that for many of Sullivan’s years in the Legislature, there was split control: Democrats controlled the House but Republicans the Senate.

Host Austin Jenkins goes in-depth with Rep. Sullivan on school funding, the state budget and taxes, the tenor of current political debate, and more.