Health plans bring a rush of consumers


Herald Writer

Phone lines are expected to be jammed this week with consumers rushing to buy individual health insurance plans, a market that has been closed for more than a year in Washington state.

Hundreds of callers contacted Premera Blue Cross and Group Health Cooperative on Friday, the first day the two organizations began offering the plans.

"The phones have been ringing continually," Group Health spokeswoman Keely Barrett said on Friday. "They’re swamped."

By day’s end, about 800 people had called Premera, said spokesman Scott Forslund. "We’re getting about 100 calls an hour," he said.

Regence BlueShield will begin offering individual health care plans again on Monday. The organization had a waiting list of 3,500 people who asked to be contacted when the plans were again available, said spokesman Chris Bruzzo.

"The waiting list is a good indicator of pent-up demand," he said.

Eight Regence employees were in training on Friday to prepare for the anticipated avalanche of calls.

The plans are popular with those running in-home businesses, early retirees, and those who are between jobs.

For more than a year, it hasn’t been possible to buy private, individual health care plans in Washington. Insurance companies blamed the closure of this market on multimillion-dollar financial losses.

The only option was the state’s so-call high-risk insurance pool, where premiums were often substantially higher.

State legislation passed earlier this year established new ground rules for individual health insurance plans.

Among its provisions:

  • All comprehensive individual plans are required to provide maternity and prescription drug coverage.

  • A uniform health questionnaire was established, which will be used by all insurance companies offering individual plans.

  • The sickest 8 percent of applicants will be assigned to the state’s high-risk insurance pool.

    While the legislation allowed individual health insurance to again be offered, it has raised some concerns.

    Tanis Marsh, state health care director for the League of Women Voters, said the new health questionnaire is designed to assign people with a variety of conditions to the higher-cost, high-risk health insurance pool.

    These include congenital and congestive health failure, coronary artery disease, kidney failure or being on kidney dialysis, an HIV or AIDS diagnosis, being on an organ transplant waiting list, or being a transplant recipient.

    In addition, there are lists of other medical conditions that when considered collectively can put relatively healthy people in the costlier, high-risk insurance pool, she said.

    But with 5,000 people on Group Health and Regence waiting lists, there’s a demonstrated demand for the policies.

    Premera previously had 65,000 people enrolled in individual plans, more than any other health organization in the state. It didn’t have a waiting list, but did have a phone number people could call for updates.

    All three organizations are offering both catastrophic and more comprehensive plans.

    Rates vary depending on the amount of the deductible, an applicant’s age and whether they smoke.

    At Premera, for example, health coverage for a nonsmoking couple in their late 30s with two children ranges from $156 to $496 a month. There are no co-payments required for doctor visits.

    Group Health is offering 10 percent "healthy pays" discounts for those buying comprehensive insurance plans with a $500 deductible and who are in good health. Enrollees must apply separately for this discount, Barrett said.

    For parents in their 30s with two children and a $500 deductible, the charge would be $489 a month.

    For this same late-30s, nonsmoking couple with two children and a $500 deductible, Regence would charge $387, but there are added costs of doctor visits and hospital co-payments. Total annual out-of-pocket costs are limited to $6,000 per family.

    In the state’s high-risk insurance pool, the charge for a couple in their late 30s with no children could range from $488 to $596 a month, with a $500 deductible. The charge for each child under age 24 would be an additional $159 to $194 a month.

    Having individual plans again available in Washington marks a significant change in health insurance availability, said Regence spokesman Bruzzo.

    "It’s a big step because now … everybody will have an option," he said.

    Talk to us

    > Give us your news tips.

    > Send us a letter to the editor.

    > More Herald contact information.

  • More in Local News

    Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

    Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

    Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

    The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

    IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

    The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

    The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
    Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

    Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

    John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

    Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

    Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
    ‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

    The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commerical vessel operators.

    George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
    From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

    Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

    Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
    Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

    Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

    An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
    Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

    I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

    Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

    A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

    Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade softball past Gig Harbor

    The pair combined for three homers as the Bruins won the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

    The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)
    Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

    The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

    Support local journalism

    If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.