Topic: Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner
You are viewing the most recent posts on this topic.
September 25, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Are you still trying to figure out what the Affordable Care Act will mean for you? As the online marketplace or health-insurance exchange gets ready to open next Tuesday for those looking to buy individual coverage, you likely have questions.
Here are the basics, 20 things to know about the Affordable Care Act, one of several pieces that appeared in our special user’s guide this week. That should help, but maybe you’re also hoping to ask some questions directly of a representative from the state.
Here are two opportunities in North Seattle we’ve heard about: This Sunday, and again on Nov. 10, Carolyn Smith from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner will make a 45-minute presentation about what the health-care law will change and what it won’t. Her talk will be followed by a 45-minute Q & A period. Both events run from 3 to 4:30 p.m at Wedgwood Community Church, 8201 30th Ave., NE.
September 19, 2013 at 5:09 PM
The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) issued a consumer alert Thursday advising state residents who buy their own health insurance to know their options when choosing their next health plan.
The commissioner’s office issued the alert in response to dozens of phone calls and emails from consumers upset by letters from their insurance carriers explaining that their current health plan will be discontinued at the end of the year.
Insurance carriers are replacing their current individual health plans with new insurance products that include the essential health benefits and limits on cost-sharing required under the federal Affordable Care Act.
All of the carriers have sent customers a 90-day notice that their current plan will be discontinued. The letters also suggest a specific health plan –- one of the insurer’s other products –- as a replacement.
The letters sent by Regence Blue Shield and Group Health Cooperative also state that consumers can explore additional health-plan options available from other carriers and through the state’s new health-insurance exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder.
But the letters sent by Premera Blue Cross and its subsidiary LifeWise Health Plan of Washington do not mention these other options.
“Companies are required to give you notice if they’re replacing your plan,” Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a statement. “But, unfortunately, they may not include all of your options — including your right to pick a new plan from a different company, or buy through the new exchange, WAhealthplanfinder.org.”
The OIC is concerned that this omission may mislead consumers, said OIC spokesperson Stephanie Marquis.
The OIC had suggested to all of the carriers that they include information about Washington Healthplanfinder in their discontinuation letters. Only Premera and LifeWise did not do so, Marquis said.
The OIC offers a map of exchange plans by county and the plan rates on its website.
September 19, 2013 at 9:08 AM
The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) says it has received dozens of phone calls and emails from Washington residents upset by letters from their health-insurance carriers informing them their current health plan will be discontinued at year’s end because of the federal Affordable Care Act.
The number of calls and emails is striking, given that health insurers have only just sent out the discontinuation letters, said OIC spokesperson Stephanie Marquis.
The letters inform each recipient that his or her health plan will be discontinued at the end of 2013 and suggest an alternative health plan for 2014 that is most comparable to that person’s current plan.
In some cases, the suggested health plan appears to be far less appealing than the current plan, which is raising the ire of consumers.
Jeff Reifman, 43, of Seattle, received a letter from Premera’s subsidiary LifeWise this week that suggested a health plan with a $6,350 deductible would be the “closest match” to his current LifeWise health plan, which has a $1,970 deductible. “I was pretty shocked,” Reifman said.
The letter went on to state: “If we don’t hear from you, we’ll automatically move you to this plan and you’ll be covered for 2014.”
“I think this is an example of LifeWise trying to get away with something,” Reifman said. “I don’t think they should be able to auto-migrate someone into a new plan.”
To be fair, the letter also states that if consumers have questions or want to choose a different plan they can call a customer-service hotline at LifeWise for assistance. But Reifman scoffs at the suggestion, saying he has “wasted a lot of time” talking with customer-service representatives at LifeWise in the past, with little success.
He says the letter from LifeWise left him with the impression that he had few options other than the high-deductible plan it suggested and that seemed worse than his current coverage.
One reason for this impression is that the letter fails to mention that Reifman will be able to choose from a range of health plans – and not just those offered by LifeWise – when the state’s new health-insurance exchange opens for enrollment Oct. 1.
The exchange, called Washington Healthplanfinder, will allow residents to choose from dozens of health plans for coverage in 2014.
The discontinuation letters sent out by Group Health Cooperative and Regence Blue Shield include information about Healthplanfinder, but the Premera and LifeWise letters make no mention of the exchange.
This omission has raised concerns at the OIC.
“We know that many consumers are confused by the upcoming changes and we want to make sure people understand all of the options they have for buying coverage,” said Marquis.
“We’re concerned that because Premera and LifeWise left out any mention of the new health-benefit exchange and the Washington Healthplanfinder in their letters, their customers may not know they have additional options for buying plans that could be more affordable for themselves and their families,” she said.
Premera spokesman Eric Earling said the letters don’t mention Healthplanfinder because the company has determined that “a significant number” of consumers enrolled in its individual health plans will not be eligible for the new federal premium subsidies, “which is the main reason to go to the exchange.”
Another reason is that “our interest is in making sure our customers are aware of their options available with us.”
But customer service representatives will direct callers to the exchange if they ask about plans available from other companies, Earling said.
September 11, 2013 at 9:33 PM
By now, you may have noticed that individual health insurance rates are considerably more more expensive if you’re a smoker. But just how much more? The state’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner says companies are allowed to set smokers’ health- insurance rates as much as 50 percent higher, if they could justify such hefty increases.
So far, the companies whose plans have been favorably reviewed by the Commish’s office (for inclusion in the online marketplace known as the Washington Health Benefit Exchange through its Healthplanfinder tool) haven’t gone that high. Group Health Cooperative came in the highest, with a 20 percent increase for smokers. BridgeSpan Health Company (an affiliate of the parent company of Regence BlueShield) levied a 15 percent increase, and Premera and its subsidiary, LifeWise Health Plan of Washington, had 7.5 percent increases.
About the blog
Trending with readers