Washington insurance companies file to increase rates

Fourteen health insurers in Washington state have submitted requests for an average rate increase of 9.11 percent, with medical costs being cited as the driving factor, while concerns are raised about the impact of state-imposed mandates on insurance costs.
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The insurance companies filed requests to the insurance commissioners’ office for an average rate increase of 9.11 percent

Elizabeth Troutman
The Center Square Washington

Fourteen Washington state health insurers filed requests to increase their health insurance rates. 

The insurance companies filed requests to the insurance commissioners’ office for an average rate increase of 9.11 percent. 

Aaron VanTuyl, communications and social media manager for the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, said medical costs drive rates. Staff will review the rate proposals and make decisions this fall, he said. 

“When medical costs are up, rates go up,” he told The Center Square. 

Around 244,229 people in Washington are currently enrolled in health plans through the individual market. 

“Nearly 250,000 people in Washington state get their health coverage through our individual market,” Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a May 30 news release. “I’m pleased that so many insurers are filing plans again and to see such healthy competition. Now, we’ll spend the next few months closely reviewing the companies’ requests and the assumptions they’re making to be sure any rate change is justified.”

The largest rate increase requests were from BridgeSpan Health Company, 15.15 percent, and Premera Blue Cross, 15.83 percent. One company, Asuris Northwest Health, requested a rate decrease of 3.39 percent.

Kaiser Permanente requested an 8.81 percent rate increase. The company’s media director Linnae Riesen said the rates represent Kaiser’s efforts to “continue to deliver high-quality health care for all our members and reflect the expected costs of providing coverage for our members.”

“We’ve seen significant increases in care volume, particularly outpatient services, over the past year,” she told The Center Square. “To meet the surging demand for care, we’re taking measures to expand and expedite our hiring process for clinical roles to reduce the need for costly temporary clinical positions, and we’re working to identify innovative new ways to control costs while maintaining our high standards for quality and service.

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center said research shows that national and state-imposed mandates are associated with higher insurance costs. Washington state has a high quantity of strict regulations, Hovde said. 

“State imposed mandates directly interfere with the normal voluntary relationship you have between buyers and sellers,” she told The Center Square. “They lower competition and the presence of state imposed mandates often mean that insurance company customers are forced to pay for coverage of a medical service that they may not otherwise choose.”

Hovde said a true free-market health care system would bring down insurance costs by increasing innovation and competition in the market.

“Health care costs are rising all the time, and we don’t need the government helping them,” she said. 

“There are hidden costs to all these regulations,” Hovde continued, “and that can lower the ability of everyone to afford health care.”

This report was first published by The Center Square Washington. 

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