Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Affordable Care Act in Washington: helping consumers, stimulating job diversity

The Washington state Legislature today held a hearing on Senate Bill 6464, which would allow Washington consumers to purchase catastrophic plans from states outside of Washington. In November, Insurance Commissioner Kreidler said allowing catastrophic plans is not “a good deal for Washington state.” Furthermore, allowing consumers to purchase out-of-state plans opens the door for health insurers to skirt Washington’s regulations that protect consumers.

Washington citizens have been covered by health insurance through the Washington Healthplanfinder for a little more than a month now. Let’s take a look at the numbers so far:

  • We recently published a report on uninsured and underinsured people in Washington for 2012. Approximately 14.5 percent of Washington citizens were uninsured before 2014, exceeding 990,000 people.
  • More than 325,000 people have purchased health insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder.
  • 33.1 percent of eligible Washingtonians have purchased health insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder, leading the country alongside Vermont, with 33.4 percent, in percentage of people insured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • Washington expanded Medicaid, now called Apple Health, to cover more than 516,000 people who qualify for free health insurance. Washington will eventually expand its coverage to more than 800,000 people who qualify.
  • Other benefits under the Affordable Care Act are no out-of-pocket costs to consumers for preventive care; people with chronic medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, heart disease or cancer no longer can be denied coverage; and health insurers can no longer hold consumers to an annual or lifetime maximum limit on what they will pay for.

Today, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office released a report projecting the Affordable Care Act will allow people to leave traditional full-time jobs—the ones that historically have provided medical insurance—because they now can sign up through a state or federal Health Benefit Exchange. The side of that story the media isn’t telling, however, is that people who’ve historically been locked into those jobs can pursue other types of work – starting a small business, working as an independent contractor from home, pursuing a career as an artisan or writer, or many other options that will still benefit the economy. The ACA allows them to pursue whatever line of work they wish to, because they are not beholden to an 8-to-5 office or government job in order to have health insurance.

In fact, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Urban Institute and Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute in 2013 reported that the number of self-employed Americans is projected to increase by 1.5 million people this year—11 percent-- as a direct result of their ability to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Read more in the New York Times Economix blog. In Washington state, that number is projected to increase by 30,000, or 8.7 percent.