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Washington state enrolls more than 600,000 for health coverage

Thu., April 24, 2014, midnight

SEATTLE – More than 600,000 Washington residents have obtained new health insurance coverage through the state’s health care exchange, state officials announced Wednesday.

Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and others celebrated the success of the program and recognized the unprecedented efforts in the state to bring health insurance to people who could not have afforded it in the past.

“There are 600,000 reasons to celebrate: 600,000 Washingtonians waking up this morning with the security of their own health,” Inslee said at a news conference in Seattle.

More than 1 million people have now accessed health insurance through the Washington Healthplanfinder website, officials said.

As part of that total, more than 450,000 adults obtained new coverage under Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and disabled. As of the most recent numbers through April 17, two-thirds of those, or about 300,000, were newly eligible for the program, while the rest were previously eligible but did not sign up until the open enrollment period.

An additional 455,000 renewed their Medicaid coverage through the state’s exchange – a number that will grow; Medicaid recipients apply for renewal throughout the year on the anniversary of their first eligibility determination. All Medicaid applications now must go through the website.

Washington is one of more than two dozen states that elected to expand Medicaid coverage.

“We come into the home stretch with some of the highest enrollment counts in the entire country, and that’s because the Affordable Care Act is working,” Murray said.

She reminded people that “we’re not going back” and that they’ll fight Republican efforts to repeal the federal health law.

State officials said Wednesday that they did not yet know how many people are still uninsured in the state.

One-fourth of those who signed up for new plans are young adults ages 18 to 34, according to the new data from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. Many young people appeared to have waited to sign up, with a huge enrollment spike in the 18 to 34 age group coming in the final weeks of open enrollment.

The state has previously reported that 147,000 people signed up for private health coverage, but said the total grew to 164,062 as officials finalized applications after the March 31 deadline. Open enrollment began last October.

In Spokane County, 10,027 people purchased a private health plan and 35,312 new clients were added to the expanded Medicaid program. Another 34,677 Spokane County residents have renewed their Medicaid coverage since Oct. 1, with thousands more expected to renew as the year continues.

Premera dominates sales

The state’s detailed enrollment report provided a look at which insurance carriers attracted the most paying customers on the individual insurance exchange. The sales broke down this way: Premera Blue Cross and its spinoff Lifewise, available in the largest number of counties, 60 percent of sales; Coordinated Care, 17.3 percent; Group Health, 15.5 percent. Community Health, Bridgespan (owned by Regence Blue Shield), Kaiser and Molina each accounted for less than 2 percent.

This represented a shift: Premera, Group Health and Regence have dominated the state’s overall health insurance market, including large-group corporate plans, for several years.

Earlier this year, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation studied the degree of consumer choice in the new individual insurance exchanges nationwide and ranked Washington’s new market as among the least competitive. Kaiser reported that in previous years, Premera/Lifewise held 40 percent of the market, Regence/Bridgespan held 34 percent and Group Health held 22 percent.

Part of the limited competition relates to the number of counties in which carriers other than Premera offered individual policies; Bridgespan, for example, offered individual policies in only seven of Washington’s 39 counties; Group Health offered individual policies in 19 counties, and Coordinated Care offered policies in 14 counties.

Last fall, as state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler was ruling on which policies met requirements and could be sold on the exchange for 2014, he said he hoped more companies would be ready to offer individual policies, in larger areas of the state, for 2015. Policies proposed to be sold for next year must be submitted to Kreidler for review next month.

Richard Onizuka, CEO of the state exchange, said they didn’t know what to expect last fall as they were preparing to roll out the program.

He and others credited the hard work of many in the state, including volunteers, community groups, partners, brokers and health navigators, for the program’s success so far.

Most who signed up for private plans were single, the state data shows. More women had enrolled through the exchange than men. About two-thirds of people who began the application process eventually enrolled in a plan.

And the majority of those who enrolled in private plans selected the “silver” plan, which covers 70 percent of health expenses, leaving the patient to cover 30 percent. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent chose the top-level “gold” plan, which covers 80 percent of medical costs.

About three-fourths of people qualified for a tax credit to lower their monthly premium. The average tax credit they received was $276 a month, and the average cost of a private health care plan with a tax credit was $100 a month, officials said.

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