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By Brandon Cline

County will have insurance carriers


After more than two weeks of watching and waiting, Klickitat County residents let out a big sigh of relief on June 26, as Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced that two health insurers will file plans within the state’s Exchange Market for 2018.

When Kreidler initially announced which insurers would be filing plans in each of the state’s 39 counties on June 8, no insurer had planned on providing coverage in either Klickitat or Grays Harbor counties. Both counties will now have at least one provider who filed plans through the state’s Exchange Market.

Molina Healthcare of Washington and BridgeSpan Health Company will both offer plans inside the Exchange Market in Klickitat County, while BridgeSpan will offer plans outside of the Exchange as well. Premera Blue Cross will file plans inside the Exchange in Grays Harbor County. For 2017, Lifewise Health Plan of Washington was the sole insurer to provide insurance within the county.

“This is great news for the people in Klickitat County,” said Kreidler. “We’ve worked diligently to see if we could convince the insurers to reconsider both Grays Harbor and Klickitat counties. I think we all shared concern for the people in these areas and were worried about them not having any coverage options next year, aside from the state’s high-risk pool.”

A spokesman at the Insurance Commissioner’s office said last week that Kreidler was personally calling health insurers to ask them to reconsider filing plans in the two counties, and that Kreidler came away “hopeful” from those conversations. That hope apparently was not misplaced.

Both of the two health insurers filed plans in counties neighboring Klickitat for the 2018 year. Molina filed plans inside the Exchange in Skamania County, while BridgeSpan filed plans outside of the Exchange in both Yakima and Benton counties. Klickitat is the only county where BridgeSpan plans to offer insurance through the Exchange Market.

In lieu of the initial news that Klickitat County would be insurer-less in 2018, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler announced that she had signed on to the Health Care Options Act of 2017. The bill would allow residents in any county in the country where no insurance options are available in their state’s Exchange to purchase a state-approved plan in the individual Market. The bill would also allow these residents to access subsidies that people in counties where plans have been filed through the state Exchange receive, which helps offset the cost of insurance premiums. Herrera Beutler will continue to support the bill.

“While it’s a relief that it looks like folks in Klickitat will now at least have insurance options next year, it’s still unclear what will happen in future years if Obamacare stands,” said Angie Riesterer, Herrera Beutler’s press secretary, in an email. “Unfortunately, given Obamacare’s fundamental problems, this could happen again in Klickitat or other rural counties. In that event, the legislation [Herrera Beutler] supported would make sure residents get relief from the penalties imposed by that law, and backup options to get insurance coverage.”

The Insurance Commissioner’s office announced on June 19 that health insurers who filed plans for 2018 have increased their rates by an average of 22.3 percent compared to 2017. Kreidler says that he’s concerned by the proposed increases.

“I know these numbers will be extremely upsetting to people who buy their own health insurance,” said Kreidler. “They’re upsetting to me. We’re going to spend the next several months reviewing every assumption insurers have made to make sure their proposed increases are justified.”

Molina proposed to increase its rates by an average of 38.5 percent—the largest proposed increase by any insurer—while BridgeSpan’s rates would increase by an average of 23 percent. More than 80 percent of Klickitat County residents enrolled through the Exchange Market receive an average monthly premium subsidy of $369. Over 1,100 residents in Klickitat County were enrolled in the individual Market for 2017. Open enrollment for the 2018 individual Market starts on Nov. 1.


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