Enrollment numbers are going up statewide as Washington residents sign up for public health plans for next year, with an earlier deadline looming Saturday night.
Since Sunday, more than 6,000 people have signed up for public health insurance plans through Washington Health Plan Finder, said Ben Spradling, a spokesman for the state’s online health exchange. That’s up from the roughly 4,200 people who signed up during the last week of open enrollment for the prior year, a period that ended Jan. 15 and gave customers more time to review their options heading into the new year.
“We’re pretty much flat from the exact same date last year,” Spradling said of overall sign-ups, which have been trending downward nationwide along with an expiration of the tax penalty instituted under the Affordable Care Act intended to encourage younger, healthier beneficiaries to pay into the system and drive down premiums. The individual mandate expires next year as part of the massive, Republican-led tax reforms signed into law last December.
In the absence of a national mandate to obtain health insurance, four states in the country have instituted their own tax penalties for lacking coverage. The Washington state Senate narrowly passed a bill in February that would have allowed state regulators to explore setting up a statewide “individual mandate,” but it died in the House of Representatives.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services releases weekly data reports on the number of sign-ups for federal health care plans in 39 states that don’t run their own health exchanges. According to data released Wednesday, the number of new customers signing up for public health plans is down about 20 percent this year compared to about the same period in 2017.
Democrats have been critical of cuts to budgets that paid to advertise the open enrollment period. The federal government set aside $10 million to advertise plans and sign-ups for federal plans taking effect in 2019, down from $36 million last year and $63 million in 2017. Those funds also can be used to promote association and short-term health plans, options that supporters say increase consumer choice. Opponents argue they don’t provide the same coverage protections as traditional plans made available under the Affordable Care Act.
Customers in Spokane County have plans from four health care providers to choose from this year, down from five in 2019. Rates will increase, on average, between 6.5 percent and 18.6 percent next year, depending on the provider a customer selects.
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