Health insurers have proposed an average rate increase of less than 1% for the individual market after three years of double-digit rate increases in premiums.

The proposed lowering of average rates to 0.96% is attributed to the stability of Washington’s individual market and should help people buying health insurance through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, said Pam MacEwan, CEO of the Exchange.

“Today’s rate filings are a positive sign that the individual market is stabilizing, and families and individuals will be able to find more affordable coverage in the individual-health-insurance market,” she said in a statement.

In addition to the proposed lower rates, the individual market is gaining two more health-insurance companies offering plans for 2020 — PacificSource Health Plans and Providence Health Plan.

People buying insurance on the individual market had an increase of almost 14% this year, 24% in 2018 and 11% in 2017.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange was created by the Legislature after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. Eighty-one percent — more than 200,000 people — purchase health insurance through the Exchange.

The Trump administration has made a series of changes to the ACA, such as eliminating federal cost-sharing payments and using the tax bill passed at the end of 2017 to eliminate the individual mandate requiring people have health insurance or pay a fine through their tax filings. Even though there is still some noise from Washington D.C. about tweaking or eliminating the ACA, the volume is less for the time being, said Michael Marchand, chief marketing officer for the Exchange.


It was important that the state built its own marketplace from the beginning, Marchand said, because it has had time to mature. “If there is one thing that all markets reward, it is stability,” he said.

One measure of the stability was the Exchange’s enrollment numbers for 2019. While enrollment dropped about 4% from 209,802 in 2018 to 201,416 this year, the number of people renewing from 2018 to 2019 increased nearly 22% from 133,007 to 162,058.

Mike Kreidler, Washington state’s insurance commissioner, said recent setbacks to the ACA haven’t shaken the state’s individual market.

“Despite the Trump administration’s effort over the last two years to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, this year’s filings are evidence that our full adoption of the law and the steps we’ve taken to defend and preserve it are stabilizing our market,” he said in a statement. “We have more work to do to lower the cost of health care and to help lower out-of-pocket costs, but the proposed rates are welcome news.”

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) will review the proposed rates and put forth a recommendation, which will be voted on by the Exchange’s board in September. For 2019 insurance companies had requested a 19.8% increase. OIC came back with a 13.8% proposal, which the Exchange board accepted. In 2015, the second year of the Exchange, the rate bumped up 1% and then 4% in 2016.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to show that enrollment in the Washington Health Benefit Exchange dropped 4% from 2018 to this year. An earlier version of the story said 2019 where it should have said 2018.