Gov. Jay Inslee announced today five insurance carriers have applied to offer public option plans in a majority of counties across the state. The first year of Cascade Care, the public option program, begins later this year with plans to start coverage on Jan. 1, 2021.
“The first-in-the-nation public option continues to move toward a successful start,” Inslee said. “Now more than ever, people need access to high quality, affordable health care, and Cascade Care offers that. I am pleased that health insurance companies, hospitals and medical providers have stepped up to offer this innovative coverage option, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. We are building a solid foundation during this first year of the program and anticipate that Cascade Care will offer even more for consumers over time.”
Cascade Care has remained a priority for the governor, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the health care system. The Washington State Health Care Authority issued a competitive bid process for carriers to participate in the program during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Carriers have to meet certain program requirements to be able to participate, which were laid out in the Cascade Care legislation that was passed in 2019.
“Cascade Care is a unique offering that will provide consumers with standardized benefits for more coverage options– something that’s needed in the individual insurance market” said Rep. Eileen Cody, sponsor of Cascade Care legislation.
The Cascade Care public option is offered by private insurance companies that offer standard benefits and cost-sharing at each metal level – gold, silver and bronze. The program also caps the amount health insurance carriers can pay providers for services.
“One of the key goals of this bill was to ensure predictable and reduced deductibles and co-pays for consumers," said Sen. David Frockt, Senate sponsor of the legislation. "The standardized plans accomplish this important goal while also bringing new entrants into our individual market. I believe this effort has also put downward pressure on premiums for some non-Cascade Care plans that will now be competing against these plans – another goal of the legislation. As we deal with pandemic related loss of employer sponsored coverage, we must do everything we can to build on the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act here in Washington state in order to bring health security to our people. ”
The public option plans and rates still need to be approved by the Health Care Authority, Office of the Insurance Commissioner, and the Health Benefit Exchange Board. Final approval of plans will occur in September and open enrollment begins November 1, 2020.