health insurance

Under the health law, large employers that don't offer their full-time workers comprehensive, affordable health insurance face a fine. But some employers are taking it a step further and requiring workers to buy the company insurance, whether they want it or not.

Many workers may have no choice but to comply.

Some workers are upset. One disgruntled reader wrote to Kaiser Health News: "My employer is requiring me to purchase health insurance and is automatically taking the premium out of my paycheck even though I don't want to sign up for health insurance. Is this legal?"

Office of the Insurance Commissioner

The cost of health insurance for individuals is probably going up next year in Washington, but in a key test of the market under the Affordable Care Act, the rate hikes will be lower than in recent years.

How Obamacare would affect insurance rates has been one of the law’s big mysteries. There weren’t big price hikes this year, but now that the law has been fully in effect for some months, would there be a big jump for 2015?

According to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the answer is no. In paperwork filed with the OIC, the 17 insurance companies have asked for an average increase of 8.25 percent increase. Commissioner Mike Kreidler says that's the smallest increase in seven years.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

The practice of offering relatively inexpensive health plans with bare-bones provider networks has created tension between making health care affordable and keeping it accessible. It’s set to come to a head this week in Olympia.

The growth of “narrow networks” in Washington comes as the Affordable Care Act limits the ability of insurance companies to control their costs. That’s made it harder to offer plans at a range of prices — something the companies want to do as they compete for comparison shoppers on the health exchanges.

Most Americans who still don’t have health insurance by March 31 could face a fine, and Washington’s health benefits exchange is hoping the looming deadline will help motivate people to enroll. But so far, the exchange is lagging behind its goals.

Massachusetts, which served as a template for the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to get insurance or pay a penalty, saw a huge rush just before the deadline. Exchange board member Phil Dyer says Washington needs a similar surge.

“Well, I feel like we’re behind the power curve. We’ve got a long way to go,” Dyer said. “Let’s wait and see if March gets us there, and then take a hard look at planning for Exchange 2.0.”

Washington’s health insurance exchange has ramped up its customer-service call center in anticipation of a big surge in enrollments this month. But callers should still hunker down for a long wait.

The Spokane-based call center got an average of more than 40,000 calls a day in January, but managed to answer just 15 percent of them. Of the rest, the vast majority got a message telling them to give up and call back later, while others hung up due to wait times that averaged 40 minutes or more.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

A diverse group of people have signed up for private health insurance on Washington's state-run exchange, but officials say they still need more young people on board. 

As of Jan. 2, some 71,205 people had enrolled in private plans on Washington's health insurance exchange, a good deal less than the goal of 130,000. But Exchange CEO Richard Onizuka said it’s still on the low end of the expected range.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Washington’s new health insurance exchange has been touting its strong enrollment numbers, especially in comparison to the deeply-troubled federal exchange. But members of the board overseeing the exchange are starting to express some anxiety about meeting their signup goals.

The exchange reports 98,399 enrollments, as of mid-November. But the vast majority, 88 percent, are enrolled in the government-sponsored Medicaid program. The state needs to get many more people into private qualified health plans, or QHPs, to create a functioning market.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Even as Congress squabbles over the fate of health care reform, Washington’s insurance marketplace opens its virtual doors Tuesday morning.

As Gov. Jay Inslee put it, "Despite the shenanigans in D.C., we're ready to [launch our health care exchange].”

Officials running the exchange said their federal grants have already been appropriated and they expect to be fully funded through next year.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

On the same day House Republicans voted to defund the Affordable Care Act, King County is making a big push to implement it. Volunteers went door-to-door and business-to-business across the county Friday.

Public health officials are trying to get uninsured King County residents to buy insurance on the state’s new exchange. Many of them have never had coverage before.

Paul Beaty / AP Photo

The menu of choices on Washington’s new health insurance exchange now includes 43 different plans provided by eight companies.

Consumer choice will vary by county, but every county in the state will have at least two providers to choose from.

Grocery store workers in the Puget Sound region are stepping up pressure on their employers as they try to reach a contract deal. They’re staging informational pickets everywhere from Bremerton to Seattle, to Lynnwood this afternoon to get their message out to customers. 

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Washington consumers will know later this week what insurance plans they’ll have to choose from on the state’s new health exchange. Insurance companies face a Tuesday deadline to submit plans to the state.

Nine have applied so far to offer products on the Washington Healthplan Finder, the online marketplace where consumers can comparison-shop for coverage. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, requires those exchanges to be open for business by Oct. 1.

Mike Groll / Associated Press

Washington state’s economy is recovering, but a growing percentage of workers can only find part-time jobs, and that is shutting many of them out of employer-based health insurance.

Associated Press

If the price tag for health insurance goes up under Obamacare, it’s likely to hit some policy holders in their 20s, economists have warned. Now that the first round of numbers are available in Washington state, we can see whether that’s the case.

If the price tag for health insurance goes up under Obamacare, it’s likely to hit some policy holders in their 20s, economists have warned. Now that the first round of numbers is available in Washington state, we can see whether that’s the case.

Lynn Kelley Author / Flickr

You might imagine everyone without health insurance will gladly sign up for free or subsidized coverage once it’s available this fall, under the Affordable Care Act.

However, it hasn't worked out that way for children. A high-profile effort to cover all the uninsured kids in Washington has stalled.

The Obama administration on Wednesday released its final rule on essential health benefits, which sets out the coverage insurers must offer starting in 2014.

Insurers must cover 10 broad categories of care, including emergency services, maternity care, hospital and doctors' services, mental health and substance abuse care and prescription drugs.

Health care is probably taking a bigger chunk out of your paycheck than it was a decade ago. The rising cost of insurance and deductibles has been dramatic whether you work for a small business or a large one.

Far from the campaign trail, President Obama’s health-care law is chugging toward implementation in Washington state. A new agency is emerging, with a new name – and some questions about how to fund it.

Tedeytan / Flickr

Despite the difficult economy, more Americans have health insurance than a year ago, according to newly released census data. One reason: the new “Obamacare” law allows young adults, up to age 26, to stay on their parents’ insurance. Many others qualified for government programs in 2011, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

The pattern is different, though, in Washington state.

Breastfeeding is already a civil right in Seattle, and now it’s getting financial support everywhere. Under new health rules taking effect today, as part of President Obama’s health law, women will get a number of new "preventive" services covered for free (no co-pays). 

The most talked-about new benefit has been contraceptives – and how some Catholic groups prefer not to pay for birth control. 

But seven other provisions now must be covered by nearly all health insurance plans. One of them is breastfeeding supplies and counseling. 

Nearly 5,000 Washington residents are getting rebates on their health insurance, courtesy of the new federal health law.

If you bought an individual health plan from an out-of-state company called Time Insurance, then you should be getting money back. The plans are sold under the brand, Assurant Health. The company sells primarily high-deductible health coverage.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Just over a week after the state insurance commissioner said that Regence BlueShield was sitting on record surpluses, the insurance company is asking the state to approve rate increases on people who buy insurance for themselves.

A Supreme Court ruling on President Obama’s health care law could force Washington state lawmakers to shift gears. They want to prevent a repeat of the 1990's, when the insurance market "went over a cliff," says the state Insurance Commissioner.

That could force them to require state residents to have health insurance. But, their first choice to prevent a health-care "disaster," say Democrats, is to rely on federal subsidies to keep insurance affordable.

The Bs / Flickr

If you have high-deductible health insurance – possibly paying $2,000 or more out of pocket – the price of every test or procedure matters a lot. In theory, you should shop around.

But, that’s easier said than done, as Seattle real estate broker Steven Wayne discovered: He ran through his $3,800 deductible, pretty quickly, after a recent series of fainting spells.

Now, new online tools can help you compare real costs.

Washington is one of the first states to begin tackling the requirements of President Obama's health care reform, even though the U.S. Supreme Court will approve or kill the controversial national system this summer.

The fist step in the reform is to create a Health Benefits Exchange. Each state is supposed to create its own insurance exchange as a new way for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance.

Washington's board set up to create this exchange had its first meeting on Thursday.

Losing your job often means losing your health insurance – and that’s reflected in the latest numbers of uninsured people in Washington. It’s approaching one million, or 14.5 percent of the population, according to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – One of Washington’s largest health insurers faces a hefty fine for refusing to pay for the removal of a certain type of birth control device.

Regence BlueShield will pay a $100,000 penalty for improperly denying claims from nearly 1,000 women. The women had their IUDs removed because the device was outdated or they wanted to try to have a baby.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

"There's a lot of courting going on ..."

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In Washington, there are more people on Medicaid than there are kids in public school – 1.2 million. And that number will grow significantly in 2014 when the new federal health care overhaul kicks-in.

The expansion has triggered a high-stakes competition for state contracts to provide Medicaid coverage.

Health insurance rates are going up and policies are changing for many people who have an individual plan or work at a small business. Those increases can be maddening and mystifying.

Majority Democrats in the Washington Legislature are working to close a multi-billion dollar budget gap. But they're not likely to implement a change the State Auditor says could save $180 million over the two-year budget cycle, as the idea runs afoul of the powerful teacher's union.