SEATTLE — Washington state's insurance commissioner said Thursday President Barack Obama's proposal to extend old health insurance policies isn't a good deal for Washington citizens.
Commissioner Mike Kreidler said he won't allow insurance companies to extend their old policies that didn't meet the requirements of federal health care reform. An estimated 290,000 Washington residents have received notices that their old insurance policies will be canceled.
Kreidler, a Democrat, says all of them can get better coverage on the new health care exchange. He says at least half of them will qualify for a subsidy to help them pay the premium.
"I understand that many people are upset by the notices they have recently received from their health plans and they may not need the new benefits today. But I have serious concerns about how President Obama's proposal would be implemented and more significantly, its potential impact on the overall stability of our health insurance market," Kreidler said in a statement.
The president announced earlier in the day he would allow insurance companies to keep selling their old plans to people whose policies were going to be cancelled. But that decision requires state approval.
"I do not believe his proposal is a good deal for the state of Washington," Kreidler said.
He is encouraging Washington citizens who have received a cancellation notice to check out the plans on the Washington Healthplanfinder, and not just take an alternative plan their insurance company offers.
Kreidler called the president's plan disruptive for the new system, because it could undermine the whole idea of the insurance marketplace, where people prepare for potential health problems in the future by joining an insurance pool, just like they do with car and homeowners insurance.
If people continue to buy inadequate insurance with the idea of getting into the more comprehensive pool when they have a problem, the whole system could fail, he said.
Health care reform has improved insurance coverage by requiring insurers to cover prescription drugs, maternity care and set reasonable limits on out-of-pocket costs, said Kreidler, who called the improvements significant and good for consumers.
The insurance commissioner added, however, that he understood why the president had to do something, because other proposals floating around Congress right now would have been even more disruptive. Since Washington has a system that is working well, he doesn't think this new plan will help anyone.
"If every state was working like the state of Washington, I don't think the president would have made the announcement he made today," Kreidler said.
Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 7, more than 9,000 people have selected a private health insurance plan through the marketplace in Washington state. Another 68,532 found out they were eligible for free insurance under Medicaid. And another 81,166 have completed applications for insurance, but have not finished the sign up process.
Washington health exchange: http://wahealthplanfinder.org
Washington insurance commissioner: http://www.insurance.wa.gov