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HealthCare Checkup

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

March 6, 2014 at 4:38 PM

Washington won’t revive canceled insurance plans

Coverage is Here iconWashington residents are not affected by President Obama’s announcement that canceled health insurance plans will be extended by an additional two years.

Plans that expired at the end of 2013 will stay dead in Washington, the state’s insurance commissioner confirmed Wednesday.

After getting hammered by critics for his pledge that if you liked your insurance coverage you could keep it, Obama in November gave states the option of bringing back discontinued health plans for a year. This week he upped it by two more years.

Roughly 230,000 people in Washington received letters this fall informing them that their current plans were being eliminated because they failed to meet the new requirements prescribed by the Affordable Care Act. The customers were offered new plans by their insurance company, often at a higher price.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler quickly declined Obama’s offer to bring back the defunct plans, citing concerns that it would add confusion to the market and create a logistical challenge.

“The decision I made in November was done in the best interest of the health insurance market in Washington,” Kreidler said in a prepared statement. “Advocates and health insurers continue to support my decision. They understand that allowing previously cancelled plans to continue would only raise premiums for everyone and would greatly disrupt the competitive market that we are building in Washington.”

The announcement could bolster a proposed law that would trump Kreidler’s decision.

Senate Bill 6464 would permit insurance companies to temporarily revive discontinued policies and allow out-of-state insurers to sell plans here. The measure, which is sponsored by Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, has passed the Senate but not had a hearing in the House. The legislative session ends in a week.

“We have people in our state that need help now, but are completely out of options since the insurance commissioner announced that the new extension applies only to those non-compliant or cancelled plans that were given extensions into 2014,” said O’Ban in a prepared statement. “If my bill becomes law, those people could get on plans available in other states that are much like the ones they lost.”

Insurance companies were able to “grandfather” or continue offering plans that predated passage of the Affordable Care Act, even if they lacked the suite of benefits the law now requires. Approximately 26,000 people were given the option of keeping grandfathered plans in Washington.

More than 106,000 residents have bought insurance through Healthplanfinder, the state’s insurance exchange. People buying insurance through the site can choose from 46 different plans and may receive tax subsidies based on their income to reduce their costs.

By early February, an additional 184,000 residents had purchased individual insurance outside of the marketplace, either through brokers and directly from insurance companies. Fifty-one plans are available outside of the exchange.

Washington is widely regarded as one of the more successful states in implementing the new insurance marketplaces, though the system still has problems with its website and help center.

Consumers can buy individual insurance until March 31, when sales inside and outside of the exchange end for coverage during 2014 (though people with “qualifying events” such as divorce, moving or losing a job can purchase coverage throughout the year). Most Americans are required to have health insurance or participate in a government program such as Medicaid or Medicare. Those without coverage face a penalty.

Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, discontinued plans, health insurance


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