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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Health insurance companies seek double-digit rate hikes in Washington

By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press

SEATTLE – Health insurance companies that sell individual policies in Washington want to increase their rates by an average of 13.5 percent in 2017, the state insurance commissioner’s office said Monday.

Those rate requests announced Monday are under review by the state insurance commissioner’s office, which has historically set final rates below the company requests.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler said the larger-than-usual rate hike requests show the individual insurance market is still developing.

“I see it as kind of the reflection of the shake-down cruise of this competitive marketplace,” he said. “They probably are rate increases that should have happened when they first got started.”

Individual insurance rates are likely to continue to go up and down over the next few years, Kreidler said, adding, “Losing money long term is not a good scenario.”

Kreidler notes, however, that people who can’t afford the higher rates will also benefit from an increase in government subsidies if they buy their insurance through the state exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder.

A total of 13 insurance companies plan to sell individual plans in Washington state next year, with six only selling inside the exchange, four only selling outside of the exchange and three selling both inside and outside.

Two of the companies that have been selling health insurance to individuals and families in the state have informed state officials they are dropping out of the market. Moda withdrew in January and United Healthcare of Washington will leave the individual market in 2017.

Two other companies, Premera and Lifewise, have decided to continue selling insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder, but they will no longer market their policies outside the exchange, the insurance commissioner said Monday.

The rate increase requests range from 9.5 percent by Group Health Cooperative to 20 percent by Premera.

The insurance commissioner, who will review the rate requests over the next two months, seldom grants the full rate increase request from any health insurance company. Kreidler said the requests are similar to what other states are seeing this year.

The Health Benefit Exchange Board is scheduled to certify plans for sale on Washington Healthplanfinder on Sept. 8. Open enrollment for the 2017 individual market begins Nov. 1.

Last year, the commissioner’s office received rate requests averaging increases of 4.2 percent, and granted an average of 3.8 percent. Some companies saw their rates go down in 2016, including Kaiser and Group Health.

Insurance companies haven’t made rate requests averaging double-digit amounts since 2012.

The 13 insurers interested in selling individual health insurance plans in Washington want to offer 154 total plans for 2017.