INDIVIDUAL INSURANCE: WA Struggles After Leg. Failure
Health plans are "regrouping and consumers are stewing" in the wake of Washington state legislators' inability to agree on a plan to halt the continued deterioration of the state's individual insurance market, but it looks like both groups will "have to wait for the Legislature to take up the issue again next year." The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that it "could be a long wait": Insurers are losing "millions of dollars" and Eastern Washington residents are unable to buy new plans. The situation could easily get worse. Premera Blue Cross, the largest insurer of individuals in the state, is continuing its moratorium on new enrollees. Regence BlueShield, the state's largest plan overall, is considering "a moratorium on new individual policies," and consumers are "still seeing double-digit rate increases." Regence President and CEO Rich Nelson said, "Failure to pass a bill in this session is going to impact the lives of real people in the state of Washington. It obviously did not fix the market problems." Addressing the possibility that Regence might ditch the individual insurance market altogether, Nelson said, "You can't stay in the marketplace forever if the marketplace is broken." Of the plan's business options, he said, "All of them are ugly."
Gov. Gary Locke (D) will "probably" restart negotiations between the industry and legislators, according to a spokesperson, who said, "He has not lost interest in the issue. The governor is very concerned that there are going to be even more counties in our state where individuals cannot buy policies." And Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn (D), who has had an often-contentious relationship with the state's insurers, said, "I plan to work every day of this year, before the next session, to get these issues resolved. It's my job as insurance commissioner to protect the public" (Erb, 5/31 issue).