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March 4, 2021

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State health insurers’ proposed rate increase minor

Average 0.96% hike lowest proposed by insurance companies since 2011

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Washington health insurers have proposed an average 0.96 percent rate increase for the individual market for 2020, the lowest proposed increase in nearly a decade.

The proposed rate changes were pitched to Washington’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner by 13 health insurers. It’s the lowest average proposed increase since 2011, said Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the OIC — in 2014, all individual plans were new, so there were no rate changes.

“What we’re seeing is the insurers have a better sense of the populations they’re insuring,” Marquis said. “We’re seeing a stabilizing of the market.”

The less than 1 percent average rate increase stands in stark contrast to recent increases on the individual market, which tallied a 14 percent increase for this year, 36 percent in 2018 and 14 percent in 2017.

In a prepared statement, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said the rate proposals show Washington is heading in the right direction toward offering more affordable health care. About 248,000 Washingtonians who don’t get insurance coverage from their employer must buy it through the individual market. Just over 201,000 of those people purchase their plans through Washington Health Benefit Exchange, the state’s online insurance marketplace.

“Despite the Trump administration’s effort over the last two years to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, this year’s filings are evidence that our full adoption of the law and the steps we’ve taken to defend and preserve it are stabilizing our market,” Kreidler said. “We have more work to do to lower the cost of health care and to help lower out-of-pocket costs, but these proposed rates are welcome news.”

According to the Associated Press, benchmark entry-level premiums rose on average 55 percent over the five prior years.

“The Exchange is pleased to see the number of 2020 individual health insurance rates submitted to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner that will be at or lower than rates for 2019,” Pam MacEwan, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, said in a news release. “Today’s rate filings are a positive sign that the individual market is stabilizing and families and individuals will be able to find more affordable coverage in the individual health insurance market.”

The OIC will review the proposed rates before supplying a recommendation, which will be voted on by the Exchange’s board in September. For this year, health insurers proposed a 19.8 percent increase before agreeing to the OIC’s 13.8 percent recommendation.

Local plans

Clark County residents will get to pick from BridgeSpan Health Co. (newly offered in the county), Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, LifeWise Health Plan of Washington, PacificSource Health Plans, Providence Health Plan and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.

PacificSource Health Plan and Providence Health Plan are new to the market. Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon is the only plan offered only outside the exchange, while every other insurer has plans outside and inside the exchange.

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest is the only plan that would see an increased rate, proposing a 5.83 percent rise. Molina HealthCare has proposed a 6.97 percent decrease, while LifeWise has recommended a 5.89 percent rate decrease and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon has suggested a 5.57 percent drop. Marquis said it’s important to check to see which providers are included in each plan, as they can change from year to year.

More options coming

In 2021, Washington will become the first state in the country to offer a public option health insurance plan and standardize coverage benefits, with its Cascade Care health plans. Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who’s running for president, signed that measure into law last month. The measure allows for people to purchase individual coverage as a state-sponsored plan that is different from Medicare and Medicaid, which have age and income thresholds to qualify.

As some presidential candidates are calling for “Medicare for All,” Washington’s public option will cap total provider and facility reimburse rates at 160 percent of Medicare in an effort to keep premium and deductible costs down.

“We’re going to do all we can to protect health care for Washingtonians,” Inslee said then in a prepared statement. “This public option will ensure consumers in every part of the state will have an option for high-quality, affordable coverage.”

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