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Health exchange offers preview

Washington residents will have a little more time to digest individual marketplace insurance options for next year, thanks to a new feature being rolled out by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

There are about 248,000 Washingtonians who don’t get health insurance coverage through their employer, who have to buy it on the individual market. Most of them shop on the Health Benefit Exchange, the state’s online insurance marketplace.

Beginning today, insurance shoppers will be able to preview 2020 insurance plans in advance of the marketplace enrollment period of Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Letting consumers preview the marketplace about a week before it opens will give consumers more time to weigh their options, said Health Benefit Exchange CEO Michael Marchand.

“If they can get in and take a look before the shopping window, it gives them a chance to review their options ahead of time,” Marchand said.

Marchand said site users can use the consumer decision support tool to see which plans fit them best. The tool can help consumers check to see which plan includes their preferred provider, or which plan best meets their medication needs.

This year, Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler approved an average insurance rate decrease of 3.25 percent for the 2020 individual market.

“Despite the Trump administration’s effort over the last two years to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, the record average rate decrease and interest by insurers is evidence that our market is stabilizing,” Kreidler said in an October news release. “We have more work to do to lower the cost of health care and to help lower out-of-pocket costs, but more choice and lower premiums are welcome news.”

Local options

Clark County residents can choose insurance from BridgeSpan Health Co. (newly offered in the county), Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, LifeWise Health Plan of Washington, Molina Healthcare 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.

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest is the only plan that has an increased rate, with a 5.25 percent rise. Molina HealthCare has a 9.15 percent decrease, while LifeWise has a 4.01 percent rate decrease and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon has a 2.70 percent drop. BridgeSpan dropped 2.55 percent.

According to research by the Washington State Office of Financial Management, the state’s uninsured rate was 5.5 percent this time last year. That’s a drop from 14 percent uninsured in Washington before the Affordable Care Act was implemented in the state in 2014.

Marchand said Washington has done a good job staying on top of the state’s insurance marketplace, and listening to consumer feedback, but he said there’s more work to be done. He said that while premiums have dropped, it’s not helpful if your deductible is too high.

Starting in 2021, Washington will become the first state in the country to offer a public option health insurance plan and standardize coverage benefits, when Cascade Care health plans are introduced.

Cascade Care will allow 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. 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.

“Those plans will have a lot more value to people than some of the plans currently on the market,” Marchand said.


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