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May 1, 2017

Remembering Gov. Mike Lowry's leadership in creating Association Health Plans

By: Brian Mittge   Comments: 0
Former Congressman Mike Lowry, left, shakes hands with Attorney General Ken Eikenberry during AWB's 1992 gubernatorial debate. Lowry went on to win that election, and while in office helped create an important enduring legacy: Association Health Plans. (AWB file photo)
Former Gov. Mike Lowry passed away this morning at age 78. Both Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine have weighed in with tributes to the leadership and legacy of Lowry, who served on the Metropolitan King County Council and in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected governor in 1992.

Lowry was known as a "proud liberal Democrat" who fought to expand health care and embraced a major tax increase, but also displayed a willingness to come to the table with employers on tough issues. 

Among Lowry's legislative priorities was health care and access to health insurance. Although much of Lowry’s attempt at health care reform was later unwound, his efforts produced lasting consumer protections, including guaranteed issue and renewal, which remain in effect in both Washington state and in the federal Affordable Care Act.

And after the failure of his initial health reform efforts, he worked closely with AWB and the business community to establish Association Health Plans in Washington state.

In 1995, Lowry signed legislation allowing for the establishment of AHPs, which enable associations such as AWB to offer health insurance plans to small-business owners. Today, AWB’s association health plan, HealthChoice, provides health coverage to 2,200 businesses and more than 34,000 individuals. Statewide, data suggests that AHPs provide coverage to roughly 400,000 individuals, many of whom were previously uninsured.

“Gov. Lowry understood that many small-business owners wanted to provide health insurance for their workers but couldn’t afford to do so,” said Debra Brown, president of Forterra, AWB’s service corporation. “During that time, AWB was hearing this directly from its members. So he sat down with employers and worked with them to craft association plan legislation to help expand coverage so that small employers could offer high-quality benefits at an affordable price. More than 20 years later, AHPs remain not only a critical component of Washington’s health care system but also a key part of Gov. Lowry’s legacy.”

Lowry began his political career in 1975 when he was elected to the Metropolitan King County Council. Three years later, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1992, he participated in AWB's first gubernatorial debate, squaring off against Republican candidate and Attorney General Ken Eikenberry at the annual Policy Summit at Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine.

Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner has this news obituary and HistoryLink has more on Lowry's life.