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Kreidler sets new signup period because of health exchange problems

OLYMPIAWashington residents struggling with the insurance plans purchased through the state's exchange will be able to sign up for new plans through November because problems have been so hard to correct, the top insurance official said Monday.

A special enrollment period will last from Wednesday through Nov. 14, allowing customers with unresolved problems to sign up for different plans or with different companies. There’s a catch: They could lose their subsidies or any deductible credits or out-of-pocket expenses they've built up with their current plans. But for people unable to straighten out problems with payments, claims or billings for their current plan, re-enrollment in a different plan would give them coverage, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said.

“It's not a perfect solution,” Kreidler said. “But it’s an option.”

Health exchange officials argued it wasn't a good option for most people…

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

 

AG: Same-sex spouses to be covered in business health plans

OLYMPIA — Businesses that offer health coverage to opposite-sex spouses must also offer it to same-sex spouses, state officials said today. Insurance plans must offer equal coverage to all spouses.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz issued an open letter today to the state's employers, insurance companies and benefit plan administrators that state law requires same-sex and opposite-sex spouses to be offered equal health coverage. Otherwise they run afoul of the state laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The letter follows on the heels of an agreement the attorney general's office reached with O'Reilly Automotive Inc. this spring to extent health benefits to same-sex couples after the state received a consumer protection complaint. It's not possible to send the letter to every employer in the state, Ferguson said, so the three held a joint press conference and sent the information to various e-mail lists.

The state banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2006, and voters approved a law legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012.

Ferguson said his office had only one other complaint of a company not providing health care benefits to same-sex partners and “can't take a guess” on how many others might be violating the law. But if O'Reilly, a large national company with what he termed sophisticated legal advice could be out of compliance, others could, too. He urged anyone facing discrimination on benefits for spouses to contact his office. 

Kreidler said letters were going out to the 48 insurance companies operating in the state, although his office has not received any complaints about carriers failing to offer benefits to same-sex couples. While it's possible an employer could drop benefits for opposite-sex spouses to comply with the law, the financial impact of covering the additional spouses is relatively minor, he added.

Kreidler heart surgery successful

OLYMPIA — Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is recovering from a heart bypass and valve replacement surgery.

A statement from his office said the surgery at an Olympia hospital was planned after doctors had monitored his heart for several months. Kreidler, 69, was elected to a fourth term last November. Acting Chief Deputy Deb McCurley is filling in durying his recovery.

Kreidler: Washington ahead of most states

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler was among the first with instant analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on health care reform.

Not surprisingly, Kreidler, who is a big supporter of the Affordable Care Act, was upbeat. His take: That Washington is ahead of most states because of steps it has taken to comply with the law. It's on track to set up a Health Exchange in 2014, as the law requires; some states have been waiting on the court ruling.

The state is also in line for federal subsidies for 477,000 for insurance for poor people, expanded Medicaid for poor children and a ban on insurance companies denying coverage to people who are sick.

The entire press release is inside the blog. 

Health exchange bill signed

Gregoire signs Health Insurance Exchange bill.

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire and other Democratic officials marked Friday’s second anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act – which Republicans prefer to call Obamacare – with a signing ceremony of their own.

Gregoire signed legislation to help set up health insurance exchanges in Washington, a system that would help individuals and small businesses shop for medical plans by 2014. . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog

Spec Sess Day 16: Health care laws signed

OLYMPIA – Washington will stay in the forefront of federal health care reform, and could save as much as $26 billion over the next decade, with a half dozen bills signed into law Wednesday.

Even though the federal health care reforms are being challenged in court and by critics in Congress, Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state officials said the new state laws are needed now. They also make Washington eligible for federal funds while giving the state the chance to reshape health care to fit its needs.

“We can’t sit back and wait,” State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said. “Doing nothing means the feds are going to take over.”

To read the rest of this story, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
  

Health-sharing ministry ordered to stop

Samaritan Ministries, a Christian ministry-based health plan, was ordered to cease operations in Washington on Friday by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

The Illinois-based organization's “need-sharing” program is considered insurance under Washington law, he said, despite its unusual structure.

Samaritan Ministries members pay monthly shares of $135 to $320, plus a $170 monthly fee, to cover claims submitted by other members.

The group reviews claims, then publishes the needs for members who pay the medical bills.

Kreidler said Samaritan has not registered with the state, submitted its rates and policies for review, or met solvency requirements.

The organization says it has more than 15,000 members nationwide.

Kreidler spokesman Rich Roesler said the Commissioners Office knows of only one member in Washington.

Samaritan Ministries can appeal Kreidler's order. 

Insurers fined $167,000, will refund $470,000

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has imposed $701,000 in fines, and ordered almost $470,000 in refunds so far in 2011.

The largest fine, $534,000, was  imposed in January against six Chubb & Co. subsidiaries for failing to document rate adjustments.

The biggest refund, $415,299, will go to customers of Progressive American Insurance Co., Progressive Northwestern Insurance Co., and Progressive Max Insurance Co. The companies were also fined $30,000.

Aetna Life Insurance Co, has been fined $65,000, and will refund $16,427 to policy holders who submitted claims for acupuncture treatment.

 Fines and refunds were also imposed on Ace American Insurance Co., Homesite Insurance Co., and Austin Mutual Insurance Co.

Premera accused of “stonewalling”

Premera Blue Cross is “stonewalling” a bill that would require disclosure of information supporting health insurance rate hike applications, Washingotn Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wrote today in a letter to consumers.

Washington's other two major medical health insurance carriers are willing to make the information available to the public before he acts on a rate application, Kreidler said.

Premera has balked, but would allow the disclosure after the Insurance Commissioner's office has ruled on a rate change.

“Under this bill, you would see what we see, including how much of your premium is spent on medical costs, how much goes to administrative costs, and how much goes to profit,” Kreidler writes.

Premera spokesman Erik Earling said the company is “perplexed” by the letter, given its ongoing efforts to work with the Legislature on the bill, HB1220.

He said Premera wants release of the rate information delayed because what an insurance carrier applies for is not necessary what is approved after review by Kreidler.

The company routinely provides individual and small groups with a breakdown of the insurance dollar, he said. 

Current law blocks the release of information filed in conjunction with rate applications.

“It's unique for us to call out an insurer like this by name,” said Insurance Office spokesman Rich Roesler.

In September, Kreidler criticized Regence Blue Shield because of its decision to stop writing policies on children 19 and under. He subsequently ordered the company to continue providing the insurance.

Chubb subsidiaries fined

Six subsidiaries of Chubb & Son have agreed to pay a $534,000 fine ordered by Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

An identical amount was suspended as long as the companies do not violate, for at least three years, a negotiated compliance plan that requires self-audits, among other conditions.

Federal Insurance Co., Pacific Indemnity Co., Great Northern Insurance Co., Executive Risk Indemnity Inc., Vigilant Insurance Co., and Northwest Pacific Indemnity Co. did not document reasons for rate increases and decreases as far  back as 1998.

The problems have not been corrected despite fines imposed on Chubb or its subsidiaries since 2000.

The companies could have had their lost their ability to write coverage in Washington for nine months had the consent order not been put in place.

The fine will be paid into the state general fund.

WA state makes insurance info a click away

OLYMPIA — Washington residents who are shopping for insurance are now able to check out their prospective agent and insurance company online.

The Washington Insurance Commissioner's office debuted today a new  toolkit that allows consumers to enter the name of the agent, the insurance company, or the location and see any past violations or complaints.

It also explains the ins and outs of different kinds of insurance, allows you to file a complaint online.

“In the past, these types of things sometimes required phone calls, letters in the mail and waiting time while a staffer looked up information,” Commissioner Mike Kreidler said. “With these new tools, people can get the information instantly.”

The agency als has a new page on Facebook...but then, doesn't everyone this side of Outer Mongolia have a page on Facebook?

Kreidler: Limit insurance co. surpluses

OLYMPIA — Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wants authority to limit the amount of surpluses insurance companies can amass when considering their requested rate hikes.

He’ll ask the Legislature for the authority to take those surpluses into account, and deny rate hikes of an insurance company had surpluses that totaled more than three months worth of claims expenses.

Under current law, surpluses, which include investment income, can’t be considered when deciding a request for a rate increase, Kreidler said in a press release today. “Some non-profit insurers have built up hundreds of millions of dollars in surpluses in recent years, while still seeking double-digit rate hikes.”

He also wants the law changed to let the public see what percentage of a rate request goes to profit, to medical costs and to administrative costs.

WA Lege: Should credit scores help set car premiums?

OLYMPIA – A credit score should not be used to help determine how much a person pays for home or auto insurance premiums, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler told a legislative panel Wednesday evening.

Factors that affect credit scores can discriminate against low income and minorities, Kreidler said as he lobbied for one of his top priorities, the banning of the practice in Washington state.

“Responsible people get laid off. They consolidate their debt. They shouldn’t have to pay more for insurance because of that,” Kreidler said.

But representatives of the insurance industry told the House Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee that a credit score does help predict good and bad insurance risks and should remain one of many factors the companies can use to set a customer’s rates.

“It’s not magic or voodoo, it’s science,” said Kenton Brine, a representative of the Property Casualty Insurers Association. “It’s actuarially sound.”