The two-and-a-half-month window for Clark County residents to purchase or make changes to their health coverage opens Wednesday.
Those purchasing their own health plans through the state-based insurance exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder, have until Jan. 15 to make a selection for 2018 coverage. After the open enrollment period ends, only those with qualifying life changes — such as marriage, childbirth or moving to a new county — will be able to make changes to their health coverage before the next enrollment period in the fall of 2018.
This year, those purchasing plans on the exchange can expect to see premium increases.
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced Thursday that his office approved an average 36 percent increase in premiums for 2018.
In September, Kreidler approved an average 24 percent increase in health plan costs for 2018. But earlier this month, President Donald Trump eliminated funding for cost-sharing reductions used to lower the cost of silver plans for low- and moderate-income people. That action, Kreidler said, resulted in insurers increasing rates an additional 10 percent.
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which operates Washington Healthplanfinder, will have two Vancouver enrollment centers for the 2018 open enrollment that runs Wednesday to Jan. 15. Here are the details:
The Warshauer Agency
•Where: 609 Main St., Suite 100, Vancouver.
• When: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Walk-ins welcome.
Applied Team Insurance
•Where: 7720 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, Suite 110, Vancouver.
•When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday (evenings by appointment) and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Walk-ins welcome.
“I’m very disheartened to have to approve these rates,” Kreidler said in a news release. “The president’s decision to stop making cost-sharing subsidy payments and weakening the enforcement of the individual mandate to buy health insurance are behind the surge in premiums we’re seeing this year. The other major cost driver is the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs — something the administration promised to tackle, yet has failed to take on.”
Those purchasing health plans on the exchange may still be eligible for tax credits, based on their income, to help offset the cost of plans.
The three insurers with plans on the exchange this year in Clark County — Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, Lifewise Health Plan of Washington and Molina Healthcare of Washington — will be back in 2018 and offering a total of 14 plans.
Those three insurers are increasing rates an average of 28 percent (Kaiser), 34 percent (LifeWise) and 61 percent (Molina) over 2017 rates.
In Clark County, a 40-year-old nonsmoker will pay $432 per month for a Kaiser silver plan with a $2,500 deductible. The same plan would have been $368 per month if the federal cost-sharing reduction subsidies for silver plans were not eliminated.
A similar Kaiser plan — a silver plan with a $2,000 deductible — had been priced at $325 per month in 2017 for a 40-year-old nonsmoker.
A LifeWise silver plan with a $4,000 deductible will cost a 40-year-old nonsmoker in Clark County $464 per month in 2018. And the Molina silver plan with a $4,950 deductible will cost the same Clark County resident $416 per month next year.
All rates are for individual plans. The insurance exchange does not include family plans, so each member of a family would need their own plan. The cost of individual plans is a sliding scale based on age, with plans for children costing less.
Centers offer free help
To help consumers navigate the changes in premiums and their health plan options, the exchange is opening enrollment centers across the state. Vancouver will have two centers offering free, one-on-one assistance: the Warshauer Agency, 609 Main St., Suite 100, and Applied Team Insurance Agency, 7720 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, Suite 110.
While Applied Team Insurance Agency operated a enrollment center last year, this is the first year for Warshauer Agency. Both centers will offer appointments and walk-in assistance Monday through Saturday.
“Adapting this year is key with large rate increases, smaller networks, fewer carriers and a shortened time frame,” said Kristi Lang- Brown with The Warshauer Agency in a news release. “This will be a tough time for people trying to enroll. Personal help will be key.”
Those seeking free in-person assistance can also find trained navigators and brokers by clicking the “Customer Support” link on the Healthplanfinder website, www.wahealthplanfinder.org.
While open enrollment runs until Jan. 15, selections must be made by Dec. 15 for coverage beginning Jan. 1. Medicaid enrollment through the exchange, however, is open year-round.