Friday, August 30, 2013

Kreidler achieves settlement with health insurers - approves 10 more Exchange plans


Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has reached settlements with Community Health Plan of Washington and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest and approved their 10 plans for sale in Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder.

 Consumers in Washington will now have 41 choices in the Exchange when open enrollment begins Oct. 1. Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW) will have three plans available in 26 counties.

 Kaiser will offer an additional seven plans in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

 Kreidler said the additional 10 plans meet the same high standards held for the other approved companies. They also ensure continuity of care for Medicaid enrollees and create more competition in the marketplace.

 The Exchange set an initial July 31 deadline for the Insurance Commissioner’s review and approval of plans for inclusion in the Exchange, where subsidies for health coverage will be offered as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

“We had 31 health plans approved by the Exchange’s deadline. Washington consumers now have an additional 10 quality plans to choose from,” Kreidler said.  “We took the initial deadline seriously, but we also followed our own legal process and it worked. The Exchange cannot delay any further. It must take action and approve these plans by Sept. 5.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

New online tool shows you what individual health insurance costs next year in WA


We've built a new online tool to help you find out what health care plans will cost next year. Simply click on the map -- premiums vary by where you live -- and it will tell you which insurance carriers are offering coverage in your area. You can click on each company to see its rates, which vary based on your age.



A couple of caveats: These rates are mainly for the individual market, meaning people who have to buy insurance for themselves, and don't get it through an employer, Medicare, etc.

Also, the rates do factor in the subsidies that will be available to some people. Those subsidies will reduce the cost of coverage substantially for many people. You can estimate how much you'll pay, with subsidies taken into account, by using this online calculator from the Washington HealthPlanFinder.

Lastly, the list of health plans is likely to grow over the next couple of months. We are still reviewing plans, for example, for multiple insurance carriers that have filed to sell coverage outside the state exchange. And some plans that were rejected for the Exchange have filed appeals. So stay tuned.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An open letter from Mike Kreidler about insurance plans filed for Washington's exchange

An open letter from Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

In January, the biggest changes under health care reform – or “Obamacare” – will take effect. Many health plans, which now have to comply with federal standards, will be significantly better. And hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income Washingtonians will qualify for subsidies to help pay for coverage.

This fall, Washington’s new Health Benefit Exchange will open for business, giving consumers an easy way to compare health plans, sign up, and see if they qualify for the subsidies.

Many kinds of insurance policies, before they can be sold, must be reviewed and approved by my office. This is a very important consumer protection, designed to ensure that prices are fair and that insurers can deliver on their promises.

I’m pleased to report that based on state and federal law, we were able to approve 31 health insurance plans, from four carriers, for the Exchange. People shopping on the Exchange will have broad choice and significantly better coverage, starting Jan. 1, 2014.

Unfortunately, we had to reject applications from five other insurance carriers. These were not decisions I made lightly. I am a strong supporter of competition and consumer choice, and a longtime supporter of health care reform.

As the state’s insurance regulator, however, I have a duty to protect consumers and to hold all insurers to the same standards. There were substantial problems in the plans we rejected.

Health insurers must have adequate networks of doctors and other health care providers. And there were major problems with the networks of most of the rejected plans. One didn’t offer any pediatric hospital.

Another had no approved retail pharmacy. Certain plans didn’t have adequate access to transplant surgeons, or to HIV/AIDS specialists.

One network would have required people to drive more than 45 miles to see a cardiologist, and more than 120 miles to see a gastroenterologist. That would be like living in Tacoma but having to see a doctor in Bellingham.

These were not minor technicalities. They were major problems.

Some people have pointed out that three of the carriers whose plans were rejected are currently serving people on Medicaid. They worry that people whose incomes rise, making them ineligible for Medicaid, will have difficulty moving to a regular commercial plan, or would lose important continuity of care offered by the community clinics. Many of these community clinics offer important services, such as language assistance or transportation.

Rest assured: The plans I approved for the Exchange include a substantial number of community clinics throughout the state. In many cases, Medicaid patients who want to remain with the same clinic will be able to.

The Affordable Care Act requires all carriers participating in the Exchange to contract with an adequate number of “Essential Community Providers,” or ECPs. These are defined as health care providers that serve high-risk, special needs and underserved individuals. Many Sea Mar clinics, for example, have contracts with the commercial carriers who were approved for the Exchange.

My staff and I worked very hard to try to get all carriers and all plans across the finish line in time. We had dozens of meetings, and 14 webinars to try to walk them through the process. I called one CEO after another, laying out the key issues and timelines. On the final night, July 31, we had staff waiting at their desks until midnight, in order to give the companies every possible minute to succeed.

But some carriers – particularly those new to the commercial insurance market -- simply couldn’t meet the standards this time.

We knew this first big year of health reform implementation would be a bumpy ride, and it has been. But I remain optimistic about the future. We will continue to work with all carriers to help them get ready for the next year, when I fully expect more insurers to succeed.

In the meantime, consumers have a broad number of choices. The insurance is meaningful, the networks robust, the subsidies significant. Again, the process has been bumpy. But it’s a very promising start.

Mike Kreidler
Insurance Commissioner

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Auto insurance and pizza delivery

We get a lot of calls from parents -- and usually those calls are after the fact, unfortunately -- about whether their child delivering pizzas needs additional auto coverage.

Sorry, but the answer's usually yes. Most personal auto insurance policies won't cover you if you're getting paid to use your own car to transport people or property for business purposes.

In general, you'll need to buy a business or commercial auto insurance policy if you are a health care worker who occasionally uses your own car to take clients to appointments. The same is true if you use your own car to deliver flowers, newspapers, pizzas, etc.

If you have questions about your coverage -- and policies do differ -- contact your agent or insurance company directly.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Health insurance questions: Preventive colonoscopies and polyps

Until fairly recently, when consumers had routine preventive colonoscopies, they often faced a substantial bill for surgery if a polyp was discovered and removed during the procedure. But current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor, under the Affordable Care Act, protect consumers from these extra charges for polyp removal.
Q5: If a colonoscopy is scheduled and performed as a screening procedure pursuant to the USPSTF recommendation, is it permissible for a plan or issuer to impose cost-sharing for the cost of a polyp removal during the colonoscopy? 
No. Based on clinical practice and comments received from the American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and the Society for Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates, polyp removal is an integral part of a colonoscopy. Accordingly, the plan or issuer may not impose cost-sharing with respect to a polyp removal during a colonoscopy performed as a screening procedure. On the other hand, a plan or issuer may impose cost-sharing for a treatment that is not a recommended preventive service, even if the treatment results from a recommended preventive service.
In addition, the federal guidelines help people with a family history that put them in a high risk group for certain diseases. They will now be able to get more frequent preventive care without additional costs.
Q7: Some USPSTF recommendations apply to certain populations identified as high-risk. Some individuals, for example, are at increased risk for certain diseases because they have a family or personal history of the disease. It is not clear, however, how a plan or issuer would identify individuals who belong to a high-risk population. How can a plan or issuer determine when a service should or should not be covered without cost-sharing? 
Identification of "high-risk" individuals is determined by clinical expertise. Decisions regarding whether an individual is part of a high-risk population, and should therefore receive a specific preventive item or service identified for those at high-risk, should be made by the attending provider. Therefore, if the attending provider determines that a patient belongs to a high-risk population and a USPSTF recommendation applies to that high-risk population, that service is required to be covered in accordance with the requirements of the interim final regulations (that is, without cost-sharing, subject to reasonable medical management).
If you're having problems with your health insurer over these sorts of issues and you live in Washington state, feel free to contact our consumer hotline at 1-800-562-6900 or email us

Thursday, August 1, 2013

WA Supreme Court: Insurer can be held liable for agent's actions

In a case that’s been closely watched by the insurance industry, Washington’s State Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed that insurers are liable for the illegal actions of their agents.

“The ruling is a big win for consumers,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, whose decision the case was challenging. “If you allow someone to do business on your behalf, it only stands to reason that you can be held responsible for what they do.”

The case involved violations of the state’s insurance laws in 2006 and 2007 by an insurance agency appointed by Chicago Title Insurance Company. That agency, Land Title Co. of Kitsap County, Inc. repeatedly offered illegal inducements to get business. The violations included illegally “wining and dining” real estate agents, builders and mortgage lenders with free meals, donations for a golf tournament, monthly advertising, and Seattle Seahawks playoff game tickets.

Although Land Title was Chicago Title’s exclusive agent in the Washington counties at issue in the case, Chicago Title argued that it was not responsible for its agent’s actions. In a consent order signed in 2009, the company agreed to pay a $48,334 fine if it did not prevail in court.

“Chicago Title’s arguments were contrary to a century of insurance law,” said Kreidler. “In order to effectively regulate insurers and protect consumers, it’s important to hold insurers responsible for the actions of their agents.”

Title insurance practices have long been a concern to Kreidler, whose office in 2005 scrutinized 18 months of employee expense reports and ledgers for the largest title companies in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The examination found many cases in which the companies were providing gifts, golf tournament sponsorships, parties, ski trips, sports tickets, meals and other inducements to get business.

“Few people shop for title insurance, although they certainly can,” said Kreidler. “It tends to be included in the large stack of documents that homeowners are handed to sign. So title companies and others in the industry are positioned to steer business to particular insurers.”


New rules took effect in March 2009, clearly outlining what can be given. There are limits on advertising, donations to trade associations, meals, training, leasing workspace and gifts.