8.9% averaged rate hike okayed for individual health plans sold in Washington next year

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(The Center Square) – The Washington Insurance Commissioner’s Office has approved 14 health insurers to sell individual coverage plans in 2024, including a dozen companies offering plans through the state’s online exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder.

The exchange is compliant with the federal Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which calls for individuals to annually purchase a health insurance plan if they don’t receive coverage from an employer or qualify for Medicare, Medicare or other state programs.

Monthly premium costs vary depending on which plan is selected, the number of people covered, their age, where they live, and if they smoke. Coverage costs are also tiered – gold, silver and bronze – based on deductible and co-pay amounts. The standard enrollment period opens Nov. 1 and closes Jan. 15 for health coverage beginning in 2024.

In a press release last week, state insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler said the averaged rate increase for all plans in 2024 will jump 8.94% from this year. That’s slightly less than the averaged 9.11% rate hike sought by the insurers, but still a significant financial impact on consumers, Kreidler indicated.

“I’m relieved to see that our competitive health insurance market is continuing and that people in every county will have choices,” said Kreidler. “But I’m deeply concerned at what these increases mean for individuals and their families. We need to do the hard work of getting at the underlying costs of health care.”

He said the insurers’ premium cost proposals have been driven by several factors, including increased use of health care and a “pent-up demand for elective surgeries” delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, said Kreidler, premiums have been affected by prescription drug costs and payment changes to what insurers either received or owed under the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment program.

“This program stabilizes the market by spreading the financial risk across all insurers. It requires federally collected funds be redistributed from plans with lower-risk enrollees to plans with higher-risk enrollees,” said Kreidler.

As of July, an estimated 220,059 people were enrolled in the individual health insurance market. Over 192,000 bought coverage through the Washington exchange and more than 75% of those individuals received financial assistance to pay their monthly premium, said the commissioner’s office.

The office reviews the proposed rates for each plan to see if they’re justified in relation to the benefits they’re providing. If the proposed rate changes can be “actuarially justified,” Kreidler said his office is required by law to approve them. Summaries of the 2024 plans have been posted for each of Washington’s 39 counties.

The Washington Healthplanfinder site offers ways to save on premium and out-of-pocket costs that can’t be found elsewhere.

Some lower-income individuals may qualify for free or low-cost coverage under the state Medicaid program, called Apple Health, which is available year-round to persons under age 65 who are U.S. citizens or legal residents for at least five years. Persons who don’t qualify for Apple Health may still receive tax credits and savings through the state’s Cascade Care plans.

And, depending on income, certain cost-share reductions that lower out-of-pocket costs are also available for persons who sign up for a “silver”-level health plan.

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