Health insurance premiums on the state’s individual market could soar in 2018 if rate hikes requested by insurers are approved.
Insurers requested an average premium increase of 22.3 percent, according to a news release Monday from the Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner. That’s significantly more than the average request of 13.5 percent last year and 5.4 percent in 2015.
Most Washingtonians get health insurance through employer-sponsored plans, which would not be impacted directly by these increases. In Spokane County, 12,567 people enrolled in the Washington exchange for 2017, according to a report from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said uncertainly over the future of the Affordable Care Act is likely contributing to higher rate increases. The Trump administration has said it will not enforce the mandate requiring people to buy health insurance, which could mean healthy people opt out of coverage, driving up average costs.
Ongoing federal funding for the subsidies offered to people buying plans on the exchange is also up in the air. Kreidler’s office has asked insurers to clarify whether those issues factored into the requests and expects to receive answers by the end of the week.
Kreidler told the House Health Care and Wellness Committee on Monday the increases were “higher than we certainly anticipated” and his office will give them a thorough review to make sure they reflect the actual cost of providing services and “not a fear about what might happen in the future.”
While still high, increase requests were lower in the region including Spokane, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille and Stevens County than across Washington.
Locally, changes range from an 11.4 percent hike for the Kaiser Foundation of Washington to a 36 percent increase for Molina, which will be the only insurer on the individual market in Ferry and Pend Oreille counties.
For a nonsmoking 26-year-old, the modest silver plan options in the Spokane area range from a monthly premium of about $228 to $348. For a 60-year-old, those costs climb from about $606 to $923.
Those costs do not include the subsidies more than 60 percent of Washingtonians who buy coverage on the exchanges receive. Subsidy amounts are based on the average cost of the second cheapest silver-level plan on the exchange and should increase with premiums.
Republicans were quick to point to the requested increases as evidence that the Affordable Care Act is failing in Washington.
“Despite state efforts to prop up this flawed, unstable law, it is clear that Obamacare is on an unsustainable path in our state,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in a joint statement with Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside). “We refuse to allow this failed government-knows-best approach to healthcare to cause more damage.”
Asked Monday about the Republican plan to solve rising costs, McMorris Rodgers pointed to a Congressional Budget Office assessment of the bill passed by House Republicans in May, which found average premiums would decrease, but also suggested many people with chronic illnesses would be unable to purchase coverage at all and older Americans would end up paying more.
She said Senate Republicans have been discussing their own bill but said that plan is not finalized.
“They’re hoping to move forward and have something by July 4, but I don’t believe they have any specifics yet,” she said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pinned the steep rate requests on Trump.
“President Trump has spent his first months in office sabotaging families’ health care with no regard for how that will impact people in Washington state or anywhere else in the country – and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that patients and families are paying the price as premiums are announced,” Murray said in a statement.
A total of 11 insurers filed rate requests for 71 health plans across Washington, a decrease from a year before, when 13 providers offered 154 plans. For the first time, Klickitat County will have no individual marketplace insurers. Grays Harbor County initially had no insurers, but Kreidler announced later Monday that Premera Blue Cross would offer plans there after discussion.
The insurance commissioner will review all plans and certify them for sale on the state exchange on Sept. 14. Final insurance rates will be announced sometime in the fall, and open enrollment will begin Nov. 1.
This article has been updated to correct how subsidies for individual insuranc are calculated. They are based on the second least expensive silver plan, not the least expensive plan.