COLUMN: Fewer Choices, Higher Premiums Require Health Reform

November 1, 2016
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Remember this promise from President Obama to sell his signature health care law to the American people: If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. You might remember that it earned the distinction as PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” in 2013 after millions of Americans’ plans were cancelled. Even former President Bill Clinton recently called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “the craziest thing in the world.” Broken promises have become the new normal with the ACA, and the people paying the price are regular Americans.

The latest news is that in the 2017 plan year, premiums will rise in Washington by an average of 13.5 percent, and around the nation by as much as 25 percent, as insurers pull out of existing markets. These price increases will have a real impact on the budgets of families, and they show why it is so important to replace the ACA with a system that works and is actually affordable.

In Washington, families and small businesses will face fewer health care choices next year, especially in rural communities. At the end of 2015, insurers Moda and Columbia United Providers exited the Washington individual market. This year, insurer Premera announced it would stop selling individual plans, and Lifewise Health Plan of Washington, a Premera subsidiary, will stop selling plans on ACA exchanges in 12 Washington counties: Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Kittitas, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skagit, Stevens and Yakima. Another major insurer, UnitedHealth Group, announced that it will exit Washington altogether.

Insurers heading for the exits all add up to fewer choices and competition for consumers. Instead of the current 11 carriers on the state ACA exchange, Washington consumers will be down to nine in 2017. Nationally, and as we have seen in our own state, rural communities are the hardest hit, with more than 650 counties stuck with a single health insurer. Small businesses are also feeling the pressure of fewer choices. Washington Healthplanfinder Business, the state’s ACA small business marketplace, will only have a single insurer, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, selling plans in only two counties in 2017. Eleven health insurers will sell small employer plans outside of the Exchange. 

The ACA has been a disaster for American families. The premium rate shock facing Washingtonians and consumers nationwide in 2017 show that the ACA is falling far short of its goal of making health care more affordable. You can read the Republican plan to restore competition and lower health care costs by going online and checking out I am committed to supporting a patient-centered system that allows more competition in a free market on behalf of families and businesses.