Charting a course to private health care coverage

Doctor talking with patient
State lawmakers are pushing for a proposal which would increase access to individual health plans. Photo: Zahy1412

Lawmakers have approved a measure which would guarantee individual market health care coverage in all counties in Washington, regardless of whether or not a county has any available plans.

While proponents say the bill will give Washingtonians more options for coverage, some Republican lawmakers cited concern that the proposal would end up increasing costs for associations and businesses as they will be funding more residents entering the state’s high-risk pool.

The stated purpose of HB 2408  is to ensure better access to individual health care coverage across Washington state. The bill’s prime sponsor is State Reps. Eileen Cody (D-34), and its cosponsors include State Reps. Laurie Jinkins (D-27), Roger Goodman (D-45) and Norm Johnson (R-14). The House approved the measure unanimously on Feb. 14.

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Washington state currently has 17 counties with only one insurer option for residents choosing individual health plans under the state healthcare exchange that was set up under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Those counties include Grays Harbor, Skagit, Yakima and Clallam.

Last July, insurers failed to file plans in Grays Harbor and Klickitat counties, creating uncertainty about whether those residents would be left without coverage for individual plans. Since then, Cambia Health Solutions and Molina have begun to offer coverage in Klickitat county, with Premera offering plans in Grays Harbor.

During the Mar. 7 Senate floor debate, State Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-49) told colleagues: “This past year, our state faced the prospect of two counties being without health care coverage options for individuals, and every individual in our state deserves access to healthcare.”

Under HB 2408, a health carrier must offer qualified health plans in counties where those plans are approved by the School Employee’s Benefits Board or the Public Employees’ Benefits Board.

Until the end of 2019, Washington residents living in counties without private health care insurance would be able to purchase coverage outside of their counties until it becomes available locally.

“This bill helps better safeguard and ensure that individuals in all 39 counties in our state have health care coverage options.”

However, State Sen. Ann Rivers (R-18) said that Republicans were split on the amended bill’s effect on costs to organizations offering association plans.

Businesses pay a large portion of the Washington State Health Insurance Pool (WSHIP), that is, the state’s high-risk pool for those unable to obtain comprehensive health care coverage or Medicare supplemental coverage.

Self-insured businesses do not pay into the WSHIP fund, however, only financially successful or large businesses can self-insure.

“Folks in those bare counties will actually have to go to WSHIP, or the high-risk pool, which is funded of course by our small association groups. While the bare counties will be taken care of by WSHIP, the other folks in association plans will be paying much higher prices to pay for those folks to go into WSHIP.”

The Senate approved the measure in a 30-18 vote following lawmaker commentary. The measure now awaits signatures from House and Senate leadership.

 

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