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What Does Obamacare Mean For You? 8/20/2013
 It’s a subject that begets strong opinions from people across the political and social spectrum.

Whether you’re a doctor, a politician or a consumer, the subject of health care can be both encouraging and discouraging all at the same time. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has received a wide range of reactions. No matter your take on the new health care act, it’s going into effect the first of the year. 

Here in Washington, what’s being called the Health Benefit Exchange will be our governments’ implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
 
The Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner announced recently that the companies set to provide insurance plans within the exchange have now been chosen. They are Premera, Lifewise, Bridgespan and Group Health Cooperative. These four companies were chosen from nine that applied to the commissioner’s office.
 
However, Lifewise is a subsidiary of Premera, so it’s actually three companies offering plans. On top of that, Lifewise and Premera are the only companies with plans available in all 39 counties. Effectively serving Chelan and DouglasCounties only one company.
Part of the sales pitch of the Affordable Care Act was an increase in choice and competition of health care providers. With only three companies state-wide, competition is limited to say the least.
 
Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Krideler said he is aware of the small number of approved companies and how that can affect consumer choice in the upcoming health benefit exchange. However, he said, it’s not a huge change from how things have been in the Washington health care sphere.

 

Senator Linda Evans-Parlette has been outspoken against the limited number of companies within the exchange since Krideler’s office made the announcement. Parlette said having only three providers, some of the same we’ve always had, was not the purpose of the Affordable Care Act – it was to have more choices.

 

Krideler said his office has been working with the insurance companies for over a year now. The application process was difficult for many of the providers working towards approval from the commission, he said. They not only had to meet the requirements already in place, conditions such  as limiting out of pocket expenses, avoiding consumer discrimination, and having doctors and hospitals secured within their plans, but new stipulations as part of the Affordable Care Act. Krideler said a common thread appeared among the companies who did not meet all the requirements.

 

The five companies that were rejected by the insurance commission are Moda Health Plan Inc., Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Molina Healthcare, Community Health Plan and Coordinated Care Company.
 
Parlette said despite the reasoning behind the commission’s rejection of the five companies and the commission’s assertions they worked closely with those companies to meet the requirements, not enough was done to get more insurance companies involved in the exchange.
 
Krideler is hopeful the kinks of the Affordable Care Act and its implementation in Washington can be worked out in its first year, 2014, with more insurance companies being accepted into the exchange in 2015.

 

The application process for insurance to get into the exchange in 2015 will soon be underway. He said competition is certainly limited for now but said he sees that turning around in the near future.

 

Senator Parlette still disagrees that the Act is the best way to go about providing affordable health care and that we’ll have to let its implementation play out in order to see where there’s room for improvement.

 

In addition to the state’s health benefit exchange, Krideler said there will be a robust market outside of the exchange. Although outside of the exchange you’re not eligible for government subsidies based on income, dozens of plans are available through companies that will operate only outside the exchange, as well as companies who will have plans available both in and out of the state system.
 
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange policy goes into effect January 1, 2014. People can begin signing up for it October first of this year. 
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