Spokane Journal of Business

Health insurers request historically low rate increase

Two new companies join 2020 individual market

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Health insurers in Washington state have filed a record-low average proposed rate increase of less than 1% for the 2020 individual health insurance market, the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner says. 

In comparison, the OIC reported an average proposed rate increase of 19% last year.

In response, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler says, “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.”

In addition, two new insurers, PacificSource Health Plans and Providence Health Plan, will join Washington’s market next year, the OIC says, meaning that all 39 counties in the state will have at least one insurer selling via the state’s exchange Washington Healthplanfinder.

According to the Washington Health Benefit Exchange’s Spring 2019 Health Coverage Enrollment report, 34% of Spokane County residents are covered by Washington Healthplanfinder. The report shows Spokane County has a total of four qualified health plan providers this year, which serve just over 12,000 enrollees here. 

In addition, Spokane County is one of four counties in the state to have more than 100,000 Washington Apple Health enrollees this year.

Kreidler’s office is expected to review all health plans and proposed rate changes over the next several months, with decisions coming in the fall.

The OIC estimates that 248,000 people who don’t get coverage from their employers must buy their own health insurance through the individual market, with most shopping on the exchange. The office reports that in Washington, 65% of people who buy plans on the exchange qualify for subsidies that help lower their monthly premiums.

Pam MacEwan, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which administers Washington Healthplanfinder, says in a separate prepared statement that she’s pleased to see the record low average increase and additional number of 2020 individual health plans reflected in the announced rate proposals.

“(The) 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,” says MacEwan. “This is good news for the over 80% of the individual market using Washington Healthplanfinder today to buy health insurance.”

The addition of new health insurance and dental insurance carriers providing coverage to counties brings more options to Washingtonians who’d previously had a limited choice of health plans, she says.

Michael Marchand, Washington Healthplanfinder spokesman, says that while there are many factors contributing to lower proposed rate increases, much of it has to do with efforts undertaken by the state to stabilize the marketplace.

“The first few years of creating a new marketplace are usually a bit volatile, as product design and pricing is sorted out,” Marchand says. “However, this is our seventh enrollment period now, so the carriers have had time to better understand who’s in their market and predict what product pricing best fits the needs of participants.”

Marchand contends that a reduction in efforts from the federal government to modify or weaken the Affordable Care Act has also helped insurers.

“Most markets don’t respond well to volatility and regulatory engagement,” he says. “Having less activity on that front has meant insurance companies had fewer major changes to factor in, making it easier for them to build off pricing from previous years.”

While the proposed rates could change upon review by the OIC, Marchand says he doesn’t anticipate that they will see much modification.

“These are only proposed rates that will still need to be reviewed and negotiated,” he says. “They could go up or down before final approval later this summer, but for the moment we’re not expecting they’ll change a whole lot.”

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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