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Washington health exchange plans double; average rates rise 1.9%


Consumers in Washington state will have more choices in health plans next year and at rates lower than initially proposed, according to information made public by the state's Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

The office has approved 10 health insurers to sell a total of 90 health plans for 2015 on the individual exchange market, up from eight insurers selling 46 plans on the exchange in 2014. The approved average rate increase for the plans is 1.9%. Insurers on the exchange, known as Washington Healthplanfinder, originally requested an average hike of 8.6%.

The lower approved average rate could assuage some observers who have been concerned that possible large increases for exchange plans across the country could inhibit individuals from signing up for coverage.

The approved average rate change for Bridgespan Health Co. — which will offer 30 plans on the exchange, the most of any individual insurer — is actually a decrease of 2.9%. Premera Blue Cross, which will offer 16 plans, the second-highest of any insurer, received an approved average rate increase of 2.6%.

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said that he saw “the increased interest from health insurers this year as a clear sign that health reform is working.”

On the exchange formerly known as SHOP and now called Washington Healthplanfinder Business, Kaiser Health Plan of the Northwest and Moda Health Plan have been approved to sell a combined 23 plans. Enrollees in Kaiser plans, which are only available in two counties, will receive an average rate decrease of 3.7%. Moda, available statewide, is new to the market.

The approved insurers and their plans are still subject to certification by Washington's Health Benefit Exchange Board at their Aug. 28 meeting. And another set of insurers — five that have applied to sell coverage only outside of the exchange, one that applied to sell only on the exchange, and another that applied to sell both on and off the exchange — still remain under review by the insurance commissioner.

Once the approval process is complete for these additional insurers' plans and rates, the average rate change for Washington's individual market will be recalculated.

Rachel Landen writes for Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Business Insurance.