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Jan. 15, 2021

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Regence resumes child-only policies

Insurer complies with state order, says it is exploring legal options

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter
Published:

o Previously: Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler ordered Regence BlueShield “to stop illegally denying insurance to children.”

o What’s new: Regence confirmed Monday it is complying with Kreidler’s order to sell to children in the individual insurance marketplace, although it still disagrees with it.

o What’s next: Regence is “exploring all of its legal and business options” and will soon make a decision on how to proceed.

Washington’s most powerful insurer — Regence BlueCross BlueShield — is complying with an order issued 10 days ago by state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to return to selling child-only health policies as part of the nonprofit’s offerings.

But the issue may not be over yet.

Samantha Meese, spokeswoman for Regence, confirmed Monday that the nonprofit is following Kreidler’s Oct. 15 cease-and-desist order. However, Meese also said in an e-mail that the commissioner’s “legal position is not supported by Washington statutes” and that Regence “is exploring all of its legal and business options, and we will make a decision in the near future as to how we will proceed in a manner that best serves all of our members.”

o Previously: Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler ordered Regence BlueShield "to stop illegally denying insurance to children."

o What's new: Regence confirmed Monday it is complying with Kreidler's order to sell to children in the individual insurance marketplace, although it still disagrees with it.

o What's next: Regence is "exploring all of its legal and business options" and will soon make a decision on how to proceed.

Rich Roesler, spokesman for Kreidler, said the commissioner’s order received serious consideration, including legal review, before being issued. “We definitely stand by our position,” he said.

Kreidler’s order came on the heels of a decision by Regence to stop selling individual health insurance policies to people younger than 19 as of Oct. 1. Regence made the decision after provisions of the federal health care reform law took effect Sept. 23, requiring insurers to cover all health conditions of the children they enroll — no exclusions for such preexisting conditions as asthma are allowed. The insurer continued to sell plans that covered children through their parents’ employers, as well as non-employer plans that also covered other family members.

In an Oct. 15 news release announc ing his cease-and-desist order, Kreidler said the nonprofit was “in clear violation of state law that prohibits insurers from denying insurance to people on the basis of age.” In response, Regence called Kreidler’s action a “gross politicization” of a complex problem.

For now, Regence Group — which operates as Regence BlueShield in most of the state and as Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon in Clark County — is complying with Kreidler’s order. Meese said the nonprofit is accepting applications for people younger than 19 “received on or after” Oct. 15 and is processing those applications according to written guidelines issued by Kreidler’s office to all health insurers in Washington on Oct. 5.

“Finding a way to maintain fair access to the insurance market for individuals under the age of 19 is a national issue and we will continue to work with state and federal regulators on finding meaningful solutions,” Meese said.

If Regence ultimately refuses to comply with Kreidler’s cease-and-desist order, it could request a hearing before an administrative hearings judge special to the insurance commissioner’s office or seek an outside hearing before a Superior Court judge.

Regence covers more than 720,000 lives, or roughly 18 percent of the market.

In Clark County, Regence is one of five insurers that sell individual health insurance policies. The other four are: KPS Health Plans, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, Lifewise Health Plan of Washington and Time Insurance Company (operating as Assurant Health).

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