"This is nuts." Confusing Obamacare health exchange approval process leads to delays
"This is nuts." That's how one member of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board described the process for approving or rejecting health plans that could be offered to Washingtonians through the Obamacare state exchange.
Earlier, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler rejected plans offered by five of the nine insurers that had sought to offer customers plans through the regulated state exchange, as he explained in a letter released August 21st.
The Board voted 6 to 2 yesterday to delay plan certification until its meeting on September 4th. The intent is to give rejected insurers more time to make their case to Commissioner Kreidler. The meeting was broadcast on TVW.
The purpose of the Affordable Care Act's state health care exchanges, due to open October 1st, is to allow people to shop for affordable or subsidized health insurance, particularly in cases where the new law has led employers to drop health coverage for workers or cut back their hours.
Timely access to the exchange is important for workers and families because starting January 1st the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate will require nearly everyone to buy qualified health coverage or pay an IRS penalty. In July, the Obama Administration postponed the mandate for businesses, but not for individuals and families.
With four weeks to go, the process face delays and confusion. As discussed at yesterday's meeting, Commissioner Kreidler rejected coverage plans offered by Molina Health on July 30th, one day before the process closed, giving Molina no time to file applications that Mr. Kreidler might accept. As Molina's representative put it, "We've tried numerous times to refile, but it hasn't been accepted" (TVW, at 45:40). Board member Phil Dyer called the process "Byzantine" and "incredibly frustrating" (TVW, at 52:25).
Dyer and Board member Bill Baldwin were particularly concerned about the lack of competition and consumer choice in the coming health care exchange, and they noted that health plans that would have met the Board's criteria were rejected by the Insurance Commissioner.
Washington residents are barred from shopping for health care plans that are legal in other states. Only plans approved by the state insurance commissioner will be made available to satisfy the individual mandate.
Officials in most states have been cautious about implementing the Obamacare law because of concerns about how it might limit choice and increase costs for their citizens. Washington state officials, however, have been fully on board from the beginning. Commissioner Kreidler, Governor Jay Inslee and other state leaders are among the most enthusiastic backers of Obamacare implementation in the country, and Kreidler is a long-time supporter of the individual mandate.
Yet the Affordable Care Act continues to be unpopular. It has never enjoyed majority support and polls show a growing number of Americans favor its repeal.
If implementation of the Affordable Care Act is hitting snags in Washington state, imagine the problems it faces across the country. Nationally, officials have missed half the deadlines required by the Affordable Care Act.
Opening Washington's Health Care Exchange on time was always going to be a close call. As the October 1st deadline approaches, it is looking increasingly likely this part of Obamacare implementation may be delayed too.