Health plans bring a rush of consumers

By SHARON SALYER

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

  • More in Local News

    Marysville firefighters respond to a 12-year-old boy who fell down a well Tuesday May 30, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Photo provided by Marysville Fire District)
    Marysville firefighters save boy who fell 20 feet into well

    The 12-year-old child held himself up by grabbing on to a plastic pipe while firefighters worked to save him.

    Highway 9 is set to be closed in both directions for a week as construction crews build a roundabout at the intersection with Vernon Road. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
    Weeklong closure coming to Highway 9 section in Lake Stevens

    Travelers should expect delays or find another way from Friday to Thursday between Highway 204 and Lundeen Parkway.

    Students arriving off the bus get in line to score some waffles during a free pancake and waffle breakfast at Lowell Elementary School on Friday, May 26, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    800 free pancakes at Everett’s Lowell Elementary feed the masses

    The annual breakfast was started to connect the community and the school, as well as to get people to interact.

    Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring speaks at the groundbreaking event for the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    $123M project starting on Highway 529 interchange, I-5 HOV lane

    A reader wondered why the highway had a lane closure despite not seeing work done. Crews were waiting on the weather.

    Justin Bell was convicted earlier this month of first-degree assault for a December 2017 shooting outside a Value Village in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)
    Court: Snohomish County jurors’ opaque masks didn’t taint verdict

    During the pandemic, Justin Bell, 32, went on trial for a shooting. Bell claims his right to an impartial jury was violated.

    Gary Fontes uprights a tree that fell over in front of The Fontes Manor — a miniature handmade bed and breakfast — on Friday, May 12, 2023, at his home near Silver Lake in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Everett’s mini-Frank Lloyd Wright builds neighborhood of extra tiny homes

    A tiny lighthouse, a spooky mansion and more: Gary Fontes’ miniature world of architectural wonders is one-twelfth the size of real life.

    Will Steffener
    Inslee appoints Steffener as Superior Court judge

    Attorney Will Steffener will replace Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis, who is retiring in June.

    Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
    Report of downed hot air balloon turns up farmer’s tarp near Snohomish

    Two 911 callers believed they saw a hot air balloon crash, leading to a major search-and-rescue response. It was a false alarm.

    A few weeks before what could be her final professional UFC fight, Miranda Granger grimaces as she pushes a 45-pound plate up her driveway on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Her daughter Austin, age 11 months, is strapped to her back. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Daily Herald staff wins 5 honors at annual journalism competition

    The Herald got one first-place win and four runner-up spots in SPJ’s Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest.

    Most Read