Effort aims to expand health plan choices

Only one carrier currently OK'd for county

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

Related story

Health exchange board delays vote on plans again

Efforts are underway to try to increase the number of health plans available for purchase on the new state-based insurance exchange set to launch Oct. 1.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange board has scheduled a special meeting today to consider approval of the four insurance carriers approved to sell plans on the exchange, only one of which will offer plans in Clark County.

Three other insurers -- Kaiser Permanente, Community Health Plan of Washington and Coordinated Care Company -- filed appeals after their applications to sell plans were denied earlier this month by state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

The appeal hearings are taking place this week, and the exchange board will hold a second special meeting Sept. 4 to consider approval for those plans that successfully appeal the earlier decision.

The board was originally scheduled to vote on the plans Aug. 21, but delayed taking action after exchange board members expressed concerns about the lack of options.

Those concerns were echoed by 16 Clark County legislators who on Tuesday sent a letter to Kreidler urging him give local residents more choices.

Kreidler approved LifeWise Health Plan of Washington, which currently serves about 6,800 Clark County residents, to offer eight Clark County health plans on the exchange, which is where uninsured individuals will buy coverage for themselves and their families. Every other county in the state has at least two insurers offering 24 plan options.

The local legislators said the monopoly granted to a single insurer means Clark County residents won't have the options and the benefits of competition that residents in other parts of the state will have.

"It is well established that competition puts downward pressure on price and increases access, quality, service, and innovation in health care," the letter read. "…Rather than offering improvement in terms of health care choice, access to care, or affordability for residents here, this development seems to be a step backward.

"Individuals and families in this region deserve better, and we are respectfully requesting that you work to offer residents here more choices for health care coverage by the time the exchange opens," the letter read.

The state exchange, named Washington Healthplanfinder, is scheduled to open for enrollment Oct. 1. The delay to approve plans will not affect the enrollment start date, according to Richard Onizuka, chief executive officer of Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is requiring state-based exchanges to submit health plan information by Aug. 31. But, according to Onizuka, the federal government is granting the state flexibility until after the Sept. 4 meeting.

"The goal of the exchange and the exchange board is to provide as many quality health plan options to consumers as possible," Onizuka said in a written statement. "We look forward to finalizing the certification of these health and dental plans to bring quality coverage options to the residents of Washington state."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com