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Western WA Residents Will Have Far More Choices in New State Healthcare Exchange

Washington state healthcare exchange opens October 1
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Coming  October 1st., as mandated by Obamacare, the new Washington State Healthcare Exchange will be open.  But Eastern Washington residents won’t have many options.

According to sources who spoke to Newstalk 870, the exchange is a “marketplace” where people looking for affordable insurance plans can shop and compare.   These officials said those who already have insurance, or are happy with their programs will NOT be required to give up their plan,  or forced to pick a plan from the exchange.

Tuesday of this week was the deadline for insurance companies to submit their proposals, insurance plans and policies to the State Insurance Exchange, known as the Washington Healthcare Finder.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler says 9 companies have applied to provide services in Washington state.   He says he’s already rejected one company.    Kreidler says the biggest obstacle for these insurers was to link up with enough doctors, clinics and hospitals in each of the state’s counties where they want to operate.

This sounds eerily familiar to what happened, in reverse, with some of the previous state offered medical plans, such as United Healthcare and Molina. Currently, the 9 insurance companies applying for the exchange are trying to gather enough medical service providers in each county so they can be assembled into a healthcare plan.

Just prior to Obamacare,  residents in Washington saw dozens of doctors, clinics and even some hospitals stop accepting state-offered programs.  While many declined to say why,  sources have told Newstalk 870 it was due to steadily declining reimbursement rates.  Some doctors and clinics were barely breaking even or even losing money by accepting patients with state plans.  We talked with 3 different multi-doctor clinics in the Mid-Columbia, and they said while they regretting having to do it, it was simply not cost-effective anymore.

Kreidler says Western Washington residents will likely have far more opportunities and plans available than those on the East side.  But he says, every county will have at least one option on the exchange.    Officials stress the exchange is simply a marketplace alternative for consumers.

Having only one or a handful of options in the exchange doesn’t sound any different than the situation faced just a couple of years ago by those who had to utilize state-offered plans.   When you went to the provider websites and looked for services in Benton and Franklin Counties, they were often unavailable.   When providers stopped accepting the state programs,   many residents ended up losing providers they had come to know and trust.

Many are wondering what will happen if the participation by doctors, clinics, hospitals and other medical services providers doesn’t increase over time.   The premise of the exchange, based upon the national Obamacare plan, requires participation by a vast majority of providers and citizens, to make it work and save all the money those who supported it said it would.

If not, it won’t end up being any better than the afore-mentioned state-run plans that ended up with little, if any, choices for consumers.

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