Thousands of people across Western Washington insured under Regence BlueShield have begun receiving letters in the mail that individual health plans will no longer be offered in the area.
The change comes as health insurers have submitted new proposals to the Washington State Insurance Commissioner’s Office for 2018.
The move affects more than 13,000 people who enrolled with Regence or BridgeSpan through the state exchange, or Affordable Care Act. That accounts for around 7 percent of market share on the exchange, according to the latest numbers from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange Enrollment Report.
Off the exchange, more than 49,000 people are affected in the individual market, according to Regence. The region affected includes major counties in Washington state including King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Thurston.
Individuals covered through their employer or through a government program would not be affected, according to a spokesperson.
Already, Regence of Washington has fielded a flurry of concerned tweets on social media.
“This was a difficult decision that we didn’t make lightly,” responded Regence via Twitter.
“This is going to cause a lot of sleepless nights. There is no easy answer for me and my family,” said David Kovanen, a Regence customer for the past 19 years.
“I don’t know what the answer is, because I haven’t found anything that’s comparable,” said Kovanen, who often travels and is able to use his current insurance in hospitals out of state.
“It’s very complex,” he continued. “New doctors, new providers, no one has my test histories, my MRIs; it’s overwhelming.”
A spokesperson for Regence said while the company will no longer offer individual off-exchange plans in 2018, “we are supporting our members through the transition and are confident they will remain well-served by the 80 plus individual health plans being offered in Washington state individual market.
The company’s letter to customers cites an unsettled individual market and says it’s taking the action now in hopes of better serving the state long-term.
“It has to be political. It doesn't make sense that it's economic,” said Kovenan.
In fact, Regence was one of the insurance companies referenced in a tweet last week by the National Federation of Independent Business of Washington, calling out the states's three leading carriers for sitting on a combined $3.5 billion surplus.
In a statement to KING 5, Regence wrote:
“Nationwide, the individual insurance marketplace is experiencing a time of instability and uncertainty; but we will continue to look for opportunities to partner with regulators to find ways that advance solutions to offer dependable and affordable health insurance choices for people. We will also collaborate with our provider partners on innovative care arrangements that better serve consumers’ needs to help contain costs.”
“They're playing kamikaze with their customers,” countered Kovanen.
He says despite the ongoing health care debate and standoff in Washington D.C., he thinks it's premature to cut coverage across so many counties, in Washington state.
“Nothing has changed; they should wait,” he said.
Regence BlueShield will offer plans outside of the exchange in Columbia, Walla Walla, and Yakima, according to the Insurance Commissioner’s Office.
Its affiliate BridgeSpan announced this week it will offer coverage in Klickitat County, previously a county without any providers within the individual market.
Off exchange, BridgeSpan will also sell in Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Yakima, and Kickitat.
As part of the 2018 plan filed with the Insurance Commissioner's Office, Regence also proposed an average rate change of 30%. Related: KING 5 coverage of proposed 2018 changes by Washington insurers
Full statement from Regence:
“Regence has served Washingtonians for 100 years and we are committed to our state’s continued economic success. Nationwide, the individual insurance marketplace is experiencing a time of instability and uncertainty; but we will continue to look for opportunities to partner with regulators to find ways that advance solutions to offer dependable and affordable health insurance choices for people. We will also collaborate with our provider partners on innovative care arrangements that better serve consumers’ needs to help contain costs.
While Regence will no longer offer individual, off-exchange health plans in 2018, we are supporting our members through this transition and are confident they will remain well-served by the 80+ individual health plans being offered in the Washington state individual market.
When it was discovered that there was a gap in coverage in Klickitat County on the Washington health benefit exchange, we collaborated with the OIC to find solutions to offer individual health plans both on and off the exchange through BridgeSpan Health company. BridgeSpan will also continue to offer coverage off-exchange in several rural counties of Washington.
Existing coverage for our members remains in place through 2017. During this transition, we will help people find an alternative health plan. We are in the process of contacting all our members with more information and next steps.”