Connelly: Washington health plans -- big average 19 percent rate hike
Eleven health insurers, in 74 health plans proposed for Washington's 2019 health insurance market, would increase rates by an average of 19.08 percent.
Every county in Washington would be covered by at least one plan, although 14 of Washington's 39 counties would have only a single insurer selling through Washington's insurance exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder.
"I'm relieved to see lower rate requests that we expected by most insurers, and coverage in every county, but any increase will be hard for consumers to bear," State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said. "There's still a great deal of uncertainty in individual markets across the country, fueled by the Trump administration's efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act."
The administration, and Republican leaders in Congress, make repeal of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, a top priority. At one point, GOP repeal efforts in the U.S. Senate were blocked by a single vote, that of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
The bipartisan Senate Health Education Labor & Pensions Committee team of Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., held hearings on turmoil in insurance markets, and proposed a plan to shore up markets. They could not get a Senate floor vote on the plan, or action in the House of Representatives.
"The Trump Administration is underfunding and deregulating provisions that ensure state markets and strong patient protection," Gov. Jay Inslee said. "We will continue to do everything we can to provide affordable options for consumers, but ultimately Congress has to do its part to protect our care."
Top Democrats in Washington's congressional delegation had an explanation for the rate hike: The Trump administration has been sowing uncertainty.
"Make no mistake, these premium increases were avoidable," said Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash. , a member of the House Financial Services Committee.
"For months, health care experts and Congress' watchdogs warned that policies being pushed by the Trump administration and its allies -- such as repealing the individual mandate, refusing to pay cost sharing subsidies and allowing for short-term junk plans -- would result in sky high premium increases and less Americans with insurance coverage."
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., added: "The Administration's push to allow junk insurance plans and eliminate cost sharing reductions for low income people is making it harder for Washington families to pay the bills and access care.
"Americans need stability and affordability in health insurance, not the chaos caused by the Trump administration."
All of the insurers' proposed rates, the details of the health plans, and coverage areas will come under review and are open to change.
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board will certify plans for sale on Sept. 13th. Open enrollment for the 2019 individual market starts Nov. 1.
A total of about 268,000 Washingtonians buy their insurance through the individual market and more than 60 percent of people currently enrolled through the Washington HealthPlanfinder get a subsidy to help lower their premiums and allow them to access care.
Washington has worked to shore up what the Trump Administration has tried to bring down.
"Our state invested in enrollment outreach, advanced policies to encourage insurers to enter underserved markets, and is working on rules to restrict short-term junk plans," Heck said. "It is due in no small part to these efforts that every county will have at least one insurer in 2019."