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HealthCare Checkup

The Seattle Times health-care team tracks the local impact of the Affordable Care Act.

October 20, 2014 at 3:21 PM

Court, Kreidler bolster mental-health coverage

Washington residents will be able to recover some of their medical costs for certain mental health services. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is sending letters instructing insurance companies to identify and inform policyholders whose insurance claims were denied for mental-health care that they have a right to have those claims re-evaluated, provided that they were…

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Comments | Topics: health insurance, Mike Kreidler

October 13, 2014 at 4:28 PM

Medicare Advantage, drug plan enrollments start Oct. 15

Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans and prescription drug coverage (Part D) begins Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. “Many Medicare plans are changing again this year,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler in a press release. “Open enrollment is the time to shop for the best plan that meets your needs.” The state offers free assistance…

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Comments | Topics: health insurance, Medicare, Office of the Insurance Commissioner

October 13, 2014 at 4:06 PM

State offers auto-renewal of health insurance

Most Washington residents who bought individual health insurance through the state’s marketplace will be able to automatically renew their coverage for 2105 without taking any additional steps. The Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which runs the marketplace, is sending out renewal letters to its customers beginning this week. Insurance companies are sending their own letters to inform…

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Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, Healthplanfinder

October 2, 2014 at 12:13 PM

State senators aim to boost birth-control access after Hobby Lobby ruling

A group of Democratic state senators said Thursday that it is crafting legislation to protect Washington women’s access to insurer-provided birth control. The group also criticized Republican leaders — slightly more than a month before the November elections — for failing to support women’s reproductive rights. The senators are “approaching this as an issue of discrimination against women,” said Sen….

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Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, birth control, health insurance

October 1, 2014 at 6:01 AM

With huge variability in hospital prices, patients must beware

A comparison of costs for the treatment of heart failure in Washington, from Washington Health Alliance.

A comparison of costs for the treatment of heart failure in Washington, from Washington Health Alliance.

The American health-care system is befuddling in so many ways, but the variation in hospital prices is among the most confounding.

The price for back surgery at Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center can cost $46,000 — three times as much as it costs at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center. If you’re looking for knee or hip replacement, at $92,000 you could wind up paying four-times more at Multicare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup than the $23,000 price tag at Wenatchee Valley Hospital.

Across the state and for services ranging from urinary tract infections to strokes, the prices for care are two, three or even four times more expensive from one facility to another.

And with insurance plans boosting the amount of costs that patients have to pay while covering smaller networks of hospitals and doctors, these price differences can hit consumers hard.

“Understanding hospital sticker prices in advance of a hospital stay can help both insured and uninsured patients reduce sticker shock,” said John Gallagher, spokesman for Washington Health Alliance, a nonprofit that released the cost comparisons in a new report.

“Because more out-of-pocket costs are being shifted to consumers and because unpaid medical bills have become a leading reason for personal bankruptcy, it’s important for health consumers to understand the financial risks they might face as patients―whether they have insurance or not,” he said in an email.

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Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, All-Payer Claims Database, health insurance

September 18, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Percentage of American women getting free birth control rises rapidly

More American women are getting free birth control in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, which requires most private insurance plans to pay for contraception with no co-pay or other out-of-pocket costs.

The percentage of women with private insurance coverage getting free oral contraception, or the pill, rose from 15 percent in the fall of 2012 to 67 percent this spring. The ACA’s free birth control mandate went into effect January 2013. Free access to other forms of pregnancy prevention also rose, according to research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute and published online Thursday in the journal Contraception.

“This analysis shows that the contraceptive coverage guarantee under the ACA is working as intended,” says Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate at Guttmacher and lead author of the study, in a press release. The institute is a nonprofit organization focused on reproductive and sexual health rights, policy and research.

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Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance

September 12, 2014 at 2:33 PM

$7.5 million to boost care at low-income, minority health clinics in Wash.

Health clinics in Washington that largely serve low-income and minority residents will receive nearly $7.5 million in federal grants to increase access to primary care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding more than $295 million to community clinics nationwide, according to an announcement made Friday. In Washington, the money will…

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Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, Washington Healthplanfinder

September 4, 2014 at 4:58 PM

Healthplanfinder drops some for non-payment, adds others

According to figures released today by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, 24,072 people have been dropped from coverage through the Healthplanfinder insurance exchange since those plans took effect in January 2014. Of that number, 8,310 were disenrolled because of non-payment of premiums, 7,735 voluntarily ended their coverage, and 8,027 were determined to no longer be eligible for a qualified…

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September 2, 2014 at 6:11 PM

Seattle Children’s, Regence settle dispute over insurance networks

A nearly yearlong dispute in which Seattle Children’s hospital sought to make sure its facilities and experts were included in Washington state health insurance plans was finally resolved Tuesday. Children’s and Cambia Health Solutions, parent company of Regence BlueShield and BridgeSpan Health, announced that the hospital will be part of the insurers’ network of health-care providers. “This…

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Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, Mike Kreidler

August 28, 2014 at 7:32 PM

Health-benefit exchange budget grows; will more spending mean more revenue?

Washington’s exchange will ask the state Legislature to lift its cap on allocations from the general fund, hoping for a budget that avoids cutting allocations for in-person assisters and advertising. Because revenue generated by the exchange goes into the state’s general fund, to be doled out later by the Legislature, the $59.2 budget approved by the exchange board…

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Comments | Topics: exchange budget, Healthplanfinder, Richard Onizuka

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