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September 6, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Mike Kreidler opens the state health exchange to new competitors

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

Corrected version

The original deadline for health insurance plans to be approved for the new state exchange, meaning that people could buy coverage for 2014, was July 31. By then, only applicants connected to the three big commercial carriers here  had been approved: Group Health, Premera, Lifewise (affiliated with Premera) and BridgeSpan Health ( a sister company of Regence).

Washington’s insurance commissioner, Mike Kreidler, said the process was done and that the other applicants had fallen short. Their networks weren’t good enough, and the applicants would have to wait a year, when the backlog of people to be insured under Obamacare would be taken up.

Kreidler justified his decision as protection of consumers, which is his job. Even so, there was an outcry. The rejected providers didn’t like it, and four of them appealed. The Washington State Health Care Authority didn’t like it either.  The Seattle Times had an editorial about it, urging Kreidler to work harder so that more companies could get across the finish line.

Well, he did. A few days later he approved plans of two of the rejected applicants:  Community Health Plan of Washington and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest. Kaiser will have seven plans in Clark and Cowlitz counties. Community Health will have three plans in 26 of the state’s 39 counties, including rural counties that otherwise would have had only one provider: Ferry, Okanogan, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Wahkiakum.

A few days later Kreidler approved two plans of another applicant, Molina Healthcare of Washington, for King, Pierce and Spokane counties. On Thursday, he approved three plans of Coordinated Care Corp. for 14 counties.

Premera, Regence and Group Health have been in the commercial market for health insurance and know it well. Kaiser, serving the greater Portland market, does also. Community Health, Molina and Coordinated Care are Medicaid contractors.  How well they do in general competition is yet to be seen. Anyway, Kreidler is giving them a chance. It’s good that he was flexible enough to do it. Probably it was also good that he didn’t OK them at first, but made them improve their offerings.

There’s no telling whether they will all make it, but they will all get to start.

This blog post, originally published at 6:02 a.m. on Sept. 6, was corrected at 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 6. A previous version misspelled Mike Kreidler’s name in the headline.

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