Washington insurance commissioner won’t allow canceled health plans

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler quickly quashed President Barack Obama’s offer to allow canceled insurance plans to continue through 2014.

“We will not be allowing insurance companies to extend their policies,” Kreidler said in a written statement issued Thursday morning, shortly after the president spoke. “I believe this is in the best interest of the health insurance market in Washington.”

Obama announced Thursday morning he would allow a one-year extension for insurance plans that are being canceled for not meeting the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The announcement came after millions of Americans received notices from their insurance companies that their coverage would end Dec. 31.

In Washington, an estimated 290,000 people have received cancellation notices and will have to pick a new health plan by Jan. 1, according to Kreidler’s office. At least half of the those people will qualify for a federal subsidy to help pay for coverage, Kreidler said.

The Affordable Care Act requires every individual and small-group plan to cover 10 essential health benefits, which include emergency services, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, prescription drugs and maternity care. Many of the state’s current individual plans don’t cover prescription drugs or maternity care, according to Kreidler’s office.

“I understand that many people are upset by the notices they have recently received from their health plans and they may not need the new benefits today,” Kreidler said. “But I have serious concerns about how President Obama’s proposal would be implemented and, more significantly, its potential impact on the overall stability of our health insurance market.”

Kreidler encouraged Washington residents shopping for health plans — whether they’re uninsured or received a cancellation notice from their insurers — to research all of their options.

“Don’t just take what your insurance company says,” he said. “You may find better, more affordable coverage with a different insurer.”

Washington is one of 14 states that created its own insurance exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder, where people can purchase health coverage for themselves and their families.

Through the exchange, www.wahealthplanfinder.org, Clark County residents can choose from 18 plans offered by three insurers — Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, Community Health Plan of Washington and LifeWise Health Plan of Washington.

Since the exchange opened last month, 9,230 Washington residents have enrolled in health plans purchased on the exchange. In addition, more than 68,500 Washington residents have enrolled in Medicaid through the exchange.

Health plans are also available outside of the exchange, but those plans are not eligible for federal tax subsidies.

“We have worked for three years to implement the Affordable Care Act in a way that works best for Washingtonians,” Kreidler said. “One goal of our efforts has been to build a stable, fair and competitive individual health insurance market.”

The president’s plan is not in the best interest of the health insurance market in Washington, Kreidler said.

“In the interest of keeping the consumer protections we have enacted and ensuring that we keep health insurance costs down for all consumers, we are staying the course,” Kreidler said.