The increase for the 207,000 customers in the Washington Health Benefit Exchange is about 10 percent less than what the exchange approved for 2018.

Share story

Premiums for Washington state’s health-insurance exchange will likely increase by nearly 14 percent next year, according to state insurance officials.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board will vote Thursday on the proposal from Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to raise premiums 13.8 percent for 2019. If passed, it will be the fourth year in a row premiums have risen. In 2015 the increase was only 1 percent; it bumped up to 4 percent in 2016 and 11 percent in 2017. The increase this past year has been almost 24 percent.

Insurance companies had requested a 19.8 percent increase for next year.

“Insurers requested lower average rate changes this year and after our review, we’ve been able to keep them even lower,” Kreidler said in an emailed statement. “That’s good news for consumers and for our individual market. Most people buying plans through the Exchange will also qualify for subsidies, which will keep their costs down. But I know there are many people struggling to afford plans and face high deductibles.”

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

At this point last year,  the Affordable Care Act (ACA) escaped a couple attempts by Congress to kill the law. The Trump administration then made a series of changes to the ACA, also known as Obamacare, in an effort to weaken it. Despite ongoing efforts to cripple or eliminate the ACA, the law remains on the books. The specter of continued repeal efforts and the cost of prescription drugs have an impact on next year’s rates, Kreidler said.

“Our biggest challenge continues to be addressing the rising costs of health care. It’s difficult to tackle this issue when there’s so much uncertainty at the federal level about the future of health reform, but we must take on the underlying cost-drivers, including the rising costs of prescription drugs if we want to see premiums decrease,” he said in his statement.

While Washington’s premiums are set to rise next year, many other states are projecting either small increases or decreases. Michael Marchand, spokesman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, said a review of rates since the ACA began in 2013 tells a better story about Washington than simply comparing next year to this year. “We’ve been in a better situation for stability than other states,” he said.

Numbers from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner show that for the two years of 2016 and 2017, the national average premium increase was 25 percent. In Washington state, it was 13.6 percent.

Kreidler’s office is trying to have the rates set for the 59,000 people buying insurance on the individual market outside the exchange by the end of the month or early October. The exchange, with its 207,000 customers, makes up only a portion of the insurance market. Most people get insurance through their employer or through Medicaid or Medicare.

Open enrollment for 2019 coverage in the exchange begins Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15, which is shorter than the enrollment window for 2018. Enrollment then went from Nov. 1, 2017, to Jan. 15, 2018. Marchand said the health exchange was comfortable adhering to the Dec. 15 date, which is prescribed by the ACA, because 93 percent of enrollees sign up by then.

The Washington exchange is again using the Washington Healthplanfinder website it launched last year in an effort to make signing up easier for customers. The site helps customers compare and choose plans.