Washington State

Two months ago, I noted that the Washington state legislature had decided to beef up their quasi-Public Option law to make the PO plans (called "Cascade Select") more robust and less expensive:

Let's step back a moment: There's actually up to three types of policies being offered depending on the carrier:

  • Qualified Health Plans (QHPs)...these are the normal policies which comply with ACA regulations offered by most carriers.
  • Cascade (Standard)...these are QHPs which also follow another state law passed last year (see below), and
  • Cascade (Select)...these are Standardized QHPs which are also public option plans.

Here's the distinction between Cascade "standard" and Cascade "select":

Breaking via the Washington Healthplanfinder:

Washington Healthplanfinder is extending special enrollment period for Washingtonians seeking health coverage through August 15, 2021

  • More Savings Coming to Washington Healthplanfinder Customers

Due to recent federal action bringing new savings opportunities to current and new individual health insurance market customers, Washington Healthplanfinder is extending the current special enrollment period from May 15 through August 15. This aligns with the recent federal announcement extending the special enrollment period for those using the federal marketplace. This special enrollment period allows currently uninsured individuals, and people both on and off the Exchange, the opportunity to benefit from these new savings.

This is from a couple of weeks ago; I'm reposting it standalone for clarity. Via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

Washington Health Benefit Exchange Issues Statement on the Signing of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

Pam MacEwan, CEO Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange), issued the following statement today following the signing of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021:

“The new stimulus plan is great news for both our current Exchange customers as well as the uninsured who have not been able to afford health insurance. Enhanced premium assistance will help people afford and keep health coverage during the current pandemic.

“Our enduring goal is to ensure that every Washingtonian can get affordable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family. Today’s landmark legislation takes the necessary steps to help those who face high insurance costs that have prevented them getting health coverage for 2021 and 2022.

Aside from Health Sherpa's announcement the other day that they enrolled over 3x as many people in ACA exchange plans in the first week of the COVID Special Enrollment Period than they normally would via traditional SEPs during the same time period, there's been no hard COVID SEP data released...until now. Via the Washington HealthPlan Finder:

Special Enrollment Period for Health Coverage Now Available

  • Currently uninsured or those seeking new coverage can enroll today on Washington HealthplanfinderOLYMPIA, Wash.

Washington Healthplanfinder is now offering a special enrollment period for Washingtonians who are currently uninsured or seeking new coverage. This special enrollment period, in response to the current public health emergency, opened Feb. 15 and runs for 90 days, ending May 15, 2021.

A couple of weeks ago I reported that the Washington Healthplan Finder was the one of the first state-based ACA exchanges to announce their own COVID19 Special Enrollment Period to coincide with the federal one being launched via HealthCare.Gov.

At the time, I wrote:

Washington State's appears to be for anyone who'd otherwise be eligible during Open Enrollment, which amounts to the same thing as full Open Enrollment. That means even those who are already enrolled in an ACA exchange plan will be able to switch to a different plan mid-year.

Well, so much for that; the Washington Health Benefit Exchange has issued a new press release ahead of the February 15th COVID SEP launch clarifying who's eligible and who isn't:

New Special Enrollment Period for Health Coverage Opens February 15

Just over a month ago, I noticed that the Washington Healthplanfinder was touting the fairly impressive launch of their new "Cascade Care" healthcare plans overall (40% of new enrollees were choosing them!)...but that completely missing from all the praise was any breakout of how many were selecting the Public Option version of "Cascade Care"...likely for a very good reason:

Let's step back a moment: There's actually up to three types of policies being offered depending on the carrier:

  • Qualified Health Plans (QHPs)...these are the normal policies which comply with ACA regulations offered by most carriers.
  • Cascade (Standard)...these are QHPs which also follow another state law passed last year (see below), and
  • Cascade (Select)...these are Standardized QHPs which are also public option plans.

Here's the distinction between Cascade "standard" and Cascade "select":

Last week the Washington Health Benefit Exchange released their official 2021 Open Enrollment Period report.

The "final" OEP numbers are gonna be a little fuzzy in some state-based exchanges this year, of course. Several states had OEP deadlines which extended past the federal one as usual, including some which didn't end until January 31st. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, several of those states went gone ahead and bumped their deadlines out further yet, through as late as March for Maryland and New York.

Then last week, of course, the Biden Administration announced that HealthCare.Gov is re-opening enrollment for a full three months starting on February 15th, and a bunch of state exchanges scrambled to announce their own additional re-openings or extensions...some of which already overlapped with those 1/31 deadlines.

via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange) announced today it will open a special enrollment period that parallels the new federal enrollment period which runs from Feb. 15 through May 15, 2021.

“Having health insurance is critically important in these challenging times of COVID,” said Chief Executive Officer Pam MacEwan. “Opening a corresponding special enrollment period in our state gives more uninsured Washingtonians the chance to get needed coverage for 2021.”

The special enrollment period will apply to anyone seeking health insurance coverage. Individuals shopping for coverage during this special enrollment period that select coverage by the 15th of the month will begin receiving coverage the first of the following month.

via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

2021 Open Enrollment for Health Coverage Ends This Friday

  • Act before midnight, Jan. 15, to secure health insurance for this year

Washington Healthplanfinder is alerting all Washingtonians still seeking health insurance that they have until midnight, Jan. 15, to select a health and dental plan for the upcoming 2021 plan year. Coverage for those who enroll before the deadline will start Feb. 1.

“This is the last call for any individuals and families who have not signed up for a health and dental plan,” said Chief Executive Officer Pam MacEwan. “With only a few hours remaining before the deadline, people that still need 2021 coverage should sign up before it is too late.”

via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

Last Days before Washington Healthplanfinder Open Enrollment Deadline

With the Jan. 15 deadline looming, Washingtonians still seeking 2021 health coverage must act now to select a plan on Washington Healthplanfinder. Customers have less than three days to shop for coverage that begins Feb. 1.

Traffic on Washington Healthplanfinder continues to be brisk this week as customers rush ahead of Friday’s deadline. So far, over 218,000 Washingtonians have signed up for 2021 coverage, including more than 40,000 new customers.

“The surge of enrollees securing health and dental coverage has been steady and shows the impact that the pandemic has had on our state,” said Chief Executive Officer Pam MacEwan. “There is limited time left for those who still haven’t enrolled in coverage and I encourage them to review their options on Washington Healthplanfinder.”

via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

Record number of Washingtonians secured health insurance coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder in 2020

In a year defined by a health crisis, 2020 saw more than two million Washingtonians enrolled in Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) and Qualified Health Plans. This is a new record high number of individuals and families obtaining health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder, the online portal administered by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange). Over 1 in 4 Washingtonians are using Washington Healthplanfinder to find and enroll in health coverage. Open enrollment for 2021 coverage runs through Jan. 15 of this year with coverage starting Feb. 1.

Approximately two million residents received free or low-cost Apple Health coverage, and the remaining 215,000 enrolled in Qualified Health Plans. This past December saw an average of 1,500 individuals a day enrolled in Apple Health.

Back on December 16th, Washington State's ACA exchange, the WA Healthplan Finder, reported that they had enrolled 210,000 state residents in 2021 on-exchange individual market policies. With a month left to #GetCovered (WA's Open Enrollment Period (OEP) doesn't end until 1/15), this means the state is very likely to surpass last year's Open Enrollment total of just over 212,000 people.

via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

Washington Healthplanfinder Sees Surge in Customers as Final 2021 Deadline Approaches

  • Select a plan by Jan. 15 for coverage that begins Feb. 1

People statewide flocked to Washington Healthplanfinder this week to beat the Dec. 15 deadline for health coverage that would start the first of the year. With that date now passed, Washingtonians still seeking 2021 health coverage have until Jan 15, 2021 to shop on Washington Healthplanfinder for coverage that begins February 1.

“We were glad to see the large number of enrollees come in and secure coverage that starts Jan. 1,” said Chief Executive Officer Pam MacEwan. “This year, in response to the public health emergency, we are providing additional time for those who didn’t enroll prior to Dec. 15 to sign up for 2021 coverage over the next month.”

It's turned into an annual tradition: The official annual ACA Open Enrollment Period (OEP) runs from November 1st - December 15th, but most of the state-based ACA exchanges have later deadlines. hThen, right around the 12/15 point, it begins: One by one, some of the state-based exchanges announce further extensions of their deadlines to #GetCovered for the upcoming year.

In some cases they simply bump out the deadline for coverage starting in January, with the final "hard" deadline for February or March coverage staying where it is. In other cases they were never allowing Open Enrollment start dates past January to begin with, so it's the hard deadline which is being extended.

In any event, here's this year's batch of announcements; note that this list could grow longer over the next week or two:

via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

Washington Healthplanfinder Urges Customers to Act Now for Jan. 1 Health Coverage

  • People need to enroll in their desired 2021 health plan by midnight, Tuesday Dec. 15

Washington Healthplanfinder is urging individuals needing 2021 health and dental coverage beginning Jan. 1 that they have less than 36 hours to take action and sign up. Customers wanting coverage that starts Jan.1 must select a plan through Washington Healthplanfinder by 11:59 p.m. this Tuesday, Dec. 15.

“For those who have left this decision to the last minute, now is the time to sign up for 2021 health and dental coverage,” said the Exchange Chief Executive Officer Pam MacEwan. “There are plenty of resources available to help people understand their options and secure health insurance coverage.”

via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

Over 200,000 have signed up for health coverage; Get covered by December 15 on Washington Healthplanfinder

  • Beat the rush by signing up today on Get Covered Day #GetCovered2021

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- As sign ups continue to increase, Washington Healthplanfinder reminds individuals today, Get Covered Day, to visit WA HealthPlan Finder to secure their health and dental coverage by Dec. 15 to ensure a start date of Jan. 1, 2021.

As of Dec. 10, over 200,000 Washingtonians have signed up for 2021 coverage, 5% more than last year at this time, and one person every 17 seconds. Among the 20,000 new customers, over 40% have selected a new Cascade Care plan. These new plans offer deductibles that are on average $1,000 less than other plans, and cover more services prior to meeting a deductible, including primary care visits, mental health services, and generic drugs.

via the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

Health Insurance Coverage is More Important Than Ever – In Person Help Still Available during New Statewide Restrictions

The 2021 open enrollment period is underway, and Washingtonians are now signing up for health plans, including in new Cascade Care health plans. After months of a global pandemic – needs have changed due to job loss, or working from home, or family income changes. Individuals seeking health coverage can now shop more options this year, along with financial assistance, by visiting Washington Healthplanfinder to sign up for health and dental coverage.

“With infection rates climbing and economic uncertainty across Washington state, now is the time to sign up for health coverage,” said Chief Executive Officer Pam MacEwan. “There are many resources available to help individuals understand their options.” 

The Washington ACA exchange has reported their initial numbers, and like Connecticut, the top figure is a bit misleading: 182,000 Washingtonians enrolled in the first four days!...except that, again, 99% of these are current exchange enrollees having their auto-renewals front-loaded:

Washington Healthplanfinder reminds Washingtonians that open enrollment has started, encouraging those seeking health coverage to visit WAhealthplanfinder.org to shop, choose, and save on health and dental coverage.

“Our focus remains on encouraging customers to review their options and sign up for coverage that meets their needs,” said Exchange Chief Executive Officer, Pam MacEwan. “The 2021 open enrollment period has begun, and residents should use this opportunity to access coverage that will last them all year.”

Way back in June, the Washington Insurance Dept. posted the state's preliminary 2021 preliminary individual & small group market premium rate filings. At the time, the weighted average across all carriers was a 1.8% drop in individual market premiums and a 3.4% increase in small group rates. They also announced the addition of two new carriers to the individual market: Community Health Network and UnitedHealthcare of Oregon. It's important to note that both of these new carriers will only be providing WA's new (quasi) Public Option plans.

Last month, however, the WA DOI announced the approved 2021 rates...for the individual market only, and even then it's missing two carriers which are still under review (Asuris and Health Alliance NW). The missing carriers only have 1,200 enrollees between them, however, so any changes to their requested rates won't move the needle noticeably:

Thanks to Louise Norris for the heads up on this.

Over a year ago, the Washington State legislature passed (and Gov. Inslee signed) a bill to create, for the first time, a state-based Public Option healthcare plan for the individual market. As I noted at the time, there's a few important caveats which illustrate again just how difficult it is to make major overhauls to the healthcare system, even at the state level:

via the Washington HealthPlanFinder:

CEO Statement on Recent Events

“As CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, I have been saddened and horrified by the brutal death of George Floyd while in police custody. His death represents one of the most recent in a long history of violence against black people, including Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many others. As communities across the state and the nation voice their justified anger and frustration, we stand with the Black community and all communities of color. This tragic event reminds our leadership and staff of the urgent need to continue to address structural racism as a way to narrow health disparities, especially in communities of color.

“We, too, are deeply concerned about the property damage taking place in our cities. It is harmful to so many people, including the communities who are working to make their voice heard. We choose to focus on the protestors’ message of racial justice over the damage being committed by a disorganized few, because property is replaceable and Black lives are not.

via the Washington Insurance Commissioner's office:

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Fifteen health insurers filed an average proposed rate decrease of 1.79% for the 2021 individual health insurance market. This includes two new insurers — UnitedHealthcare of Oregon and Community Health Network of Washington — that are joining Washington’s market. 

With 15 insurers in next year’s individual market, all 39 counties will have at least two insurers selling plans inside the exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. Ten insurers will sell plans outside of the exchange. 

The proposed average rate decrease follows an average premium reduction of 3.25% for 2019 plans. 

Washington State's insurance commissioner's office just announced the state's 2021 Individual Health Insurance Market participants. While they won't be announcing the proposed 2021 premium rate changes until June 1st, there's still several important developments in this press release:

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Fifteen health insurers filed 183 plans for Washington’s 2021 individual health insurance market — with two new insurers entering: UnitedHealthcare of Oregon and Community Health Network of Washington. 

The filings indicate a strong response from health insurers to provide more choice for consumers during the current coronavirus pandemic. They also show that individuals in all counties in Washington will have at least two options for coverage in 2021, a distinct change from recent years.  

via the Washington Healthplan Finder:

Washington Healthplanfinder Urges Uninsured to Act Fast to Meet Friday, May 8 Deadline

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange) today is urging individuals who did not secure health insurance for 2020 to sign up for coverage by 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 8, the deadline of the limited-time special enrollment period (SEP) through Washington Healthplanfinder for coverage beginning May 1, 2020.

“Now is the time to sign up for health coverage if you are currently uninsured,” said Exchange Chief Executive Officer Pam MacEwan, “There are many resources available to help individuals understand their options and secure health coverage before the special enrollment period ends.”

via the WA Healthplanfinder ACA exchange:
Over 16,000 Signed up for Coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder as Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic Hits Washington Households
  • Over 16,000 customers selected a plan for qualified health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder since March 10, when a special enrollment period was announced in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Additionally, Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) enrollments are increasing.
  • The special enrollment period allows anyone uninsured and eligible to enroll in health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder to sign up by May 8, 2020.
  • Additional existing special enrollment periods allow people who have experienced a recent loss of income or loss of employer coverage to sign up.

    via the Washington Healthplan Finder:

    Washington Health Benefit Exchange Reminds Individuals Impacted by COVID-19 of the Health Insurance Options available now through Washington Healthplanfinder

    • Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange) today is reminding uninsured individuals impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in Washington that the special enrollment period is extended through May 8, 2020, for coverage beginning May 1, 2020.

    Washingtonians who may qualify for health and dental coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder using existing special enrollment periods include individuals who:

    I've written a LOT lately about the dozen state-based ACA exchanges which have implemented COVID-19-specific Special Enrollment Periods for uninsured residents...as well as the two ACA exchanges (Idaho's, which is state-based, and The Big One, HealthCare.Gov, which hosts 38 states) which haven't done so as of yet.

    Given how much outrage there's been at the federal government for not opening up HC.gov to a COVID SEP (Idaho has somehow managed to escape notice for making the same decision) by practically every party (even the American Enterprise Institute, which isn't exactly a lefty organization, is calling for one), it's worth taking a look at the states which do have COVID SEPs open to anyone uninsured to see just how many people are actually taking advantage of them.

    Back on March 10th, Washington State, which was one of the first states hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, was also the first state with their own full ACA exchange to announce a Special Enrollment Period specifically in response to the crisis. It originally was scheduled to last about a month, with a deadline to #GetCovered of April 8th.

    Today they extended that deadline by a full month, through May 8th, 2020:

    Washington Healthplanfinder Extends Current Special Enrollment Period, Gives Extra Month for Uninsured to Secure Health Coverage

    In response to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in Washington state, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange) today announced it is extending the current special enrollment period for individuals who are uninsured.

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