Washington lawmakers have passed a bill that opens the way for a health insurance exchange to take root in the state. The bill will set up rules that will help the state prepare for the construction of the exchange and govern its operation for the foreseeable future. Legislators believe that this will help the state fully comply with the Affordable Care Act of 2010 and will help it adhere to federal deadlines. Currently, the exchange is expected to be fully operational by January 2014.
The rules established by the bill will allow Washington insurance companies to sell plans outside of the exchange. They will not be able to sell watered-down plans in the exchange without also selling “premium” plans as well. They will also not be able to opt out of participating in the exchange as a way to avoid covering unhealthy people. Insurers are divided on the issue, but many have shown favor for the exchange initiative. Washington insurers will be able to offer catastrophic insurance plans specifically for younger people through the exchange but will not be able to offer these plans outside of the system.
Lawmakers say that the state’s largest small group insurance plan, that provided by Regence BlueShield, will be the benchmark for determining the benefits provided by the plans available in the exchange. Much work must still be done to make the exchange a reality, but lawmakers have made significant progress with the passing of this bill.