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HealthCare Checkup

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

Topic: health insurance

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March 27, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Washington ranks high for getting lower-income residents insured

Washington is one of the top states for getting people who qualify for tax credits signed up for health insurance. Roughly one-third of the residents with incomes low enough to get a tax break have bought insurance through the state’s insurance exchange.

The number is significant because supporters of the Affordable Care Act are eager to reach people who need help paying their insurance premiums.

Washington residents will receive more than $285 million in tax credits to reduce the amount of their premiums, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation based on data ending March 1. This amount will increase, given that Americans can buy individual insurance plans until March 31 when open enrollment closes for this year.


0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, tax credit

March 24, 2014 at 9:01 PM

Uninsured Americans not rushing to buy health coverage

Data through March 23. Source: Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Data through March 23. Source: Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

As the enrollment deadline draws near, more than 125,000 people have purchased health insurance through Washington’s insurance exchange. But there hasn’t been the surge of new signups that supporters were hoping for, and a national poll casts some doubt that a major rush is still to come.

Only 40 percent of uninsured Americans surveyed in a new poll were aware of the March 31 deadline for purchasing individual insurance this year.

When reminded of the date and requirement that they get insurance or pay a penalty, half said they are not planning to get coverage, according to a survey being released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Four-in-10 uninsured Americans said they did plan to get insurance.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced an easy process for people to apply for extensions to the deadline if they were trying to buy insurance through federally-managed exchanges. Washington residents can also request extensions, but they have to meet more stringent requirements.

Washington’s insurance exchange, called Healthplanfinder, is nationally recognized as one of the more successful marketplaces. But a week before enrollment is set to close for the year, the exchange still had not met its January sales goal of 130,000 people.


0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, Apple Health, health insurance

March 18, 2014 at 3:37 PM

State waiting for insurance enrollment bump

Ad promoting Washington's health insurance exchange.

Ad promoting Washington’s health insurance exchange.

Many uninsured residents appear to be waiting until the last moment to enroll through Washington’s health insurance exchange. More than 112,000 people have purchased insurance through the state marketplace, but by the middle of the month, the state still hadn’t seen an uptick in the rate of enrollment.

Uninsured Americans have until March 31 to buy health insurance, or face a penalty under the Affordable Care Act.

“Like with filing taxes or returning a movie, people wait until the last minute,” said Bethany Frey, a spokeswoman for the state’s exchange, called Washington Healthplanfinder. “We do expect to still have some kind of a bump as we get closer to the deadline.”


0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, Medicaid

March 14, 2014 at 12:08 PM

Legislative review: health-care bills that lived and died in Olympia

State Capitol building in Olympia. Photo by MathTeacherGuy and used under Flickr's Creative Commons license.

State Capitol building in Olympia. Photo by MathTeacherGuy and used under Flickr’s Creative Commons license.

Thursday night marked the close of the 2014 legislative session. And despite a divided leadership — the Majority Coalition Caucus (Republican-powered) in the Senate while Democrats rule the House — some significant, as well as less important, health-care legislation made it to the finish.

Here’s what passed and moves to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will likely approve most, if not all, of the measures:

Boosting transparency, cutting costs, coordinating mental health care

Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2572 got most of its attention over a provision to create a publicly-accessible database containing medical cost and quality information. But the legislation, requested by Inslee and sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, does much more.

The bill includes strategies for improving mental-health care for low-income residents, has a plan for creating a system of measuring the quality of doctors, clinics and hospitals, and takes action on the Washington State Health Care Innovation Plan, a wide-reaching document that aims to cut medical costs.


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

March 13, 2014 at 9:40 PM

New laws will help consumers find cheapest, best docs and hospitals

Consumers will have new tools for finding out what a trip to the doctor will cost before they take it, thanks to two bills passed by Washington lawmakers.

One will require insurance companies to provide customers with a tool for doing cost- and quality-comparison shopping, while the other creates a public, statewide database with information on quality, but limited price data.

Medical procedures can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars more at one clinic or hospital than another, but most people don’t realize there’s a huge disparity in price, or know how to find that information. Transparency advocates hope that if people easily can compare the prices of everything from a hip replacement to open-heart surgery, they’ll opt for the less expensive option, ultimately driving down medical costs.

“Your goal is to change people’s behavior. You want to show them this is what things cost,” said Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah. “People will start to be more engaged, and shop on price. It’s the only sector of the economy where people don’t know what things cost until they do the procedure.”


0 Comments | Topics: All-Payer Claims Database, health insurance, transparency

March 12, 2014 at 2:56 PM

Washington insurance sales beat most other states

New Medicaid enrollments are coming in faster than people buying insurance coverage through Washington's Healthplanfinder. Data is through March 6.

New Medicaid enrollments are coming in faster than people buying insurance coverage through Washington’s Healthplanfinder. Data are through March 6.

Nearly 800,000 people have used Washington’s insurance exchange to purchase health insurance or enroll in Medicaid.

More than 109,000 residents have bought coverage through Healthplanfinder, while nearly 223,000 adults who now qualify for Medicaid under the recent expansion signed up for free medical care. The remaining nearly half a million enrollees include people renewing their existing Medicaid coverage and those who were previously eligible but had not signed up.

While the state hasn’t reached its sales targets for the exchange, Washington remains a national leader for getting people insured under the Affordable Care Act. A nationwide analysis finds that more than 21 percent of potential exchange enrollees have purchased plans through Healthplanfinder. Nationally, 15 percent of likely consumers have enrolled, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Only five states are beating Washington’s enrollment rate: Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, California and Idaho.


0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, Medicaid

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.


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

February 12, 2014 at 3:38 PM

New insurance enrollment data shows slow growth

The number of people signing up for health insurance through the state is growing at a modest pace, while enrollment of new Medicaid recipients surges ahead.

Nearly 91,000 residents have purchased health insurance from the Washington Healthplanfinder exchange. Each week enrollment has ticked up about 3 percent, following a spike in sign ups during the first few weeks of December.

Thanks to the expansion of who is eligible for Medicaid, the number of new participants in the free health-care program has increased to nearly 185,000, based on enrollment data ending Feb. 6.

Overall, nearly 650,000 people have enrolled in insurance plans or Medicaid through Washington Healthplanfinder. But it’s not always easy. People who call the state’s free help line spend on average 37 minutes trying to get the answers they need. Others say they have struggled to fix mistakes in their enrollment information, including the date their insurance is supposed to start.


0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, Medicaid

February 4, 2014 at 6:45 PM

Medicaid enrollment soars statewide

Medicaid enrollment in Washington state has grown so high so fast that the state already has met its April goal for new participants under Medicaid expansion. By Jan. 30, more than 172,700 newly-eligible adults had signed up for the free health insurance. The state was aiming for 136,000 enrollees by the start of April. While the success…


0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, Apple Health, health insurance

February 3, 2014 at 11:22 AM

How to avoid medical bill surprises

Healthcare BluebookNo one wants to buy a sweater, rent a car or order a bottle of wine with almost no idea what it will cost or how good it will be. Yet for the most part that’s how we buy our health care, with little idea of its cost or quality ahead of time. And consumers are often surprised to learn that health care can be many times more expensive at one facility compared to another.

That could change soon in Washington. Officials here are eager to shine some light on the price of health care in an effort to rein in medical costs, as I reported on Sunday. But if you’re shopping for care now, there are some tools available to help consumers make informed decisions.

If you have health insurance, chances are your insurance company has a cost comparison tool on their website, though they can be hard to find. Once you log into your insurer’s site, look for the cost tool or a tool that lets you search for a doctor. Cost and quality information are sometimes paired with the doctor search.

A national site called Healthcare Bluebook lets you search for a “fair price” for services in your area. It also gives suggestions for how to request price information and negotiate costs with your local hospitals and clinics.

When it comes to measuring the quality of care, the Washington Health Alliance (formerly Puget Sound Health Alliance) for many years has surveyed and published information about the performance of hospitals and clinics through its Community Checkup website. The national Leapfrog Group also publishes information about hospital safety.

But none of these options perfectly wed easy-to-search cost and quality information available with the public, regardless of whether they’re insured and who insures them.

State leaders are trying to change that, and one avenue is through new rules being proposed in Olympia.


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

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