State health exchange board delays vote on plans again

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The board for the state health exchange on Thursday once again delayed a vote on approval of 31 plans proposed to be part of the system.

After previously delaying a vote last week, the board of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange voted 7-2 to delay the final vote until next Wednesday, to coincide with an already scheduled meeting to consider additional companies that are appealing exclusion by Washington's insurance commissioner.

Earlier this month, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler approved four insurance companies to join the exchange and rejected proposals by five others because he said their plans didn't fit all the rules set up by the federal government as part of the new federal health law.

Some of those companies have appealed Kreidler's decision and are in the middle of an appeals process.

Michael Marchand, spokesman for the exchange, has said that the delay in finalizing insurance plans for Washington will not affect the state's open enrollment period, set to begin Oct. 1.

"This board action was taken in order to provide as many health coverage options to consumers as possible," Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, said in a written statement after the vote.

Of the nine companies that applied to sell health plan in the exchange, the four that were preliminarily approved were Bridgespan, Group Health Cooperative, Premera Blue Cross and LifeWise, a subsidiary of Premera.

The companies that applied but were not approved for the exchange were Moda Health Plan Inc., Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, Community Health Plan of Washington, Coordinated Care Co. and Molina Healthcare of Washington Inc.

Only insurance companies approved by the upcoming vote will be able to offer individual health insurance through Washington's exchange during the open enrollment period, between Oct. 1 and March 31, 2014. Other companies will have to wait to join next year, during the second open enrollment period, Oct. 15-Dec. 7, 2014.

Group Health Cooperative, LifeWise and Premera also have approved individual plans for outside of the exchange, and six additional insurers have applied for plans outside of the exchange, but Kreidler has until the end of September to approve those plans and rates.

Kaiser is the only company that has applied to sell small employer plans inside the exchange, and it was approved by Kreidler to sell nine plans in Clark and Cowlitz counties. That approval also requires a vote by the health exchange board.

The state's call center will open Tuesday to take questions from people about the open enrollment period.