Health insurers who plan to sell coverage on the Obamacare exchange in Washington state next year have asked for a 22.3 percent increase on average for the cost of monthly premiums, with state officials blaming the uncertainty caused by the Trump administration.
The rates are preliminary and must be approved by the state's office of the insurance commissioner, but they offer growing concern for next year as other states brace for similar increases and the prospect of losing insurers altogether. In Washington, residents of Klickitat county continue to face the possibility of having no insurer to buy plans from next year, even though seven insurers applied to sell plans in the state overall.
Under Obamacare, most customers who sign up for these plans will receive a tax subsidy to make up for price difference, and won't personally feel the impact of the premium hike. Full premium increases, however, could affect anyone who makes more than $48,240 for an individual and $98,400 for a family of four . About 62 percent of people who buy coverage through the Washington exchange receive a federal subsidy now.
The proposed increases range from 38.8 percent from Molina Healthcare of Washington to 12.9 percent from the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a statement that he has been reaching out to insurers to find a company willing to sell plans in one of the counties facing zero options next year.
"I'm very concerned by the proposed changes we're seeing," Kreidler said. "I know these numbers will be extremely upsetting to people who buy their own health insurance. They're upsetting to me. We're going to spend the next several months reviewing every assumption insurers have made to make sure their proposed increases are justified."
Grays Harbor county was also facing the prospect of no insurers, but Premera Blue Cross said shortly after the rate hike proposal announcement that it would be offering plans there.
Last year, insurers in Washington asked for a 13.5 percent increase on premium rates, and on average states asked for rate increases of 22 percent across the country for mid-level plans. At the time, analysts blamed a mix of factors, including insurers initially pricing their plans too low, Republican defunding federal dollars set to go to insurers, and not enough young, healthy peoeple enrolling in the plans to balance out risk pools.
Though the unbalance continues to contribute to higher rate requests, insurers have also said that the uncertainty of the future of Obamacare is weighing into their decisionmaking. They don't know whether the Trump administration will enforce the individual mandate that obligates people purchase insurance, or whether it will pay out billions of federal dollars to help insurers offer lower out-of-pocket costs to customers.
"There are specific issues with our health insurance system that we need to address, such as the rising costs of prescription drugs and health care services," Kreidler said. "Yet, the current federal administration's actions ... appear focused only on destabilizing the insurance market."
Pam MacEwan, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, said she was "very concerned" with the proposed rates, and also attributed the hikes to the uncertainty of the future of the law.
"The lack of clarity that continues to cloud these issues has contributed to the proposed increases to premium rates and potential carrier withdrawal from some rural Washington counties," she said.