Washington health exchange board certifies 35 plans

SEATTLE — Washington state certified 35 plans Wednesday to be part of the exchange developed under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange board unanimously approved the plans from seven different providers, keeping the state on track to begin an open enrollment period at the beginning of October.

Coverage in the exchange will vary across the state. Residents in some small Washington counties will only have two plans to choose from in the exchange. People in larger counties will have several options available. Still, officials were pleased with the selection.

“This is the first time that many Washingtonians will be able to shop for quality health care coverage,” said Richard Onizuka, CEO for Washington Healthplanfinder, in a statement. “These brand new coverage options will enable residents to find the important health care services they need at costs that best fit their budget.”

The board had delayed certification until Wednesday as the state insurance commissioner worked with companies to fix proposals in order to meet all requirements. Board chair Margaret Stanley said the goal was to offer as many plans to consumers as possible.

Washington may see eight additional multi-state plans if they are certified by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Even though the purchasing process won’t begin until next month, the health exchange has already opened a call center to field calls from the public. Potential customers are able to talk with people about the available plan choices, costs and potential subsidies.

An estimated 1 million Washington residents are uninsured, or about 1 in 7 people who live in the state. Officials don’t know the total number who might buy health insurance through the exchange, but the Insurance Commissioner’s office expects an estimated 328,000 people in Washington to benefit from the expansion in Medicaid coverage.

Under the plans approved by the board, rates vary based on factors like age, home county, smoking habits and choice of plan.

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