Washington health exchange OKs 35 plans

Uninsured in Clark County get 18 choices offered by 3 insurers

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The board of the state's health exchange on Wednesday granted final approval for 35 insurance plans to be sold on the state-based online marketplace.

The board for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange certified seven health insurers to offer 35 plans on the state exchange, which is where uninsured individuals will buy coverage for themselves and their families. Another eight multi-state plans from Premera are expected to be included in the exchange once the federal government certifies the plans.

The board approval includes the 18 Clark County plans offered by three insurers — Kaiser Permanente, Community Health Plan of Washington and LifeWise Health Plan of Washington.

The board also approved Kaiser's health plans for small-business owners. The plans will be sold through the Small Business Health Options Program, which will operate similarly to the individual exchange. Those plans are available only to businesses in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

"This is the first time that many Washingtonians will be able to shop for quality health care coverage," Richard Onizuka, chief executive officer for the exchange, said in a news release. "These brand new coverage options will enable residents to find the important health care services they need at costs that best fit their budget."

The board was originally scheduled to approve the plans Aug. 21, but members of the board, state legislators and other stakeholders wanted more options for consumers. The board asked the state insurance commissioner and exchange staff to work with insurers to get more plans cleared for the exchange.

Insurance commissioner acts

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler initially approved four insurers to provide 31 health plans in the state. Four of the nine insurers Kreidler denied — Kaiser, Community Health Plan, Molina Healthcare of Washington and Coordinated Care Corporation — appealed the commissioner's decision.

Last week, Kreidler announced settlements with Kaiser and Community Health Plan, adding 10 plans to the exchange. The 10 plans increased the number of options in Clark County from eight to 18.

Then on Wednesday, Kreidler announced he had reached a settlement with Molina. The agreement allows Molina to offer two health plans to residents in King, Pierce and Spokane counties.

"Our goal was to offer as many plans to consumers as possible," Margaret Stanley, chairwoman of the exchange board, said in a news release. "By allowing these health plans time to complete the appeals process, we were able to ensure that all offerings that met the requirements this year could participate in Washington Healthplanfinder."

The board has scheduled another special meeting for Friday to allow Coordinated Care additional time to continue its appeal of Kreidler's earlier decision. The state must submit health plan information to the federal government by Friday.

The state-based insurance exchange — called Washington Healthplanfinder — opens for enrollment Oct. 1. Coverage begins Jan. 1.

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