Wednesday, August 7, 2013
My home state of Washington is about as far along in the process of creating a functional health insurance exchange as any state in the country. So when the Washington State Office of Insurance Commissioner announced that only four companies were approved to offer plans in the exchange, out of nine applicants, I was curious as to why the other five had been turned down.
According to the Insurance Commissioner, the companies whose plans were not approved "struggled to guarantee access" to hospitals and providers. Many of the companies that were not approved were traditionally purveyors of Medicaid managed care plans, such as Molina, or otherwise have a history of insuring low-income people, such as Community Health Plan of Washington. The failure of these plans to be able to ensure that they would have sufficient providers who are willing to contract with them to care for the newly insured says two important things about the state of our heatlh care for low-income people--comparatively few doctors are willing to treat these people now, and doctors have a high level of distrust of the insurers who have traditionally cared for them. One of the biggest challenges for the ACA will be to change the attitudes of both consumers and providers towards providing care to those of low or moderate income.
The Insurance Commissioner's announcement highlighted another interesting fact that confirms that at least one of the problems with the ACA that are anticipated are likely to come to fruition. Although a total of 31 plans were approved, in many of the rural counties of Washington, residents will have a choice of only one insurer. The problem of coverage in rural areas will be a real one. At least the customer service reps for the three insurers who did not want to provide insurance in the rural counties won't have to learn names like "Okanogan," "Wahkiakum," and "Pend Oreille."