Rep. Joe Schmick: Washington’s insurance commissioner has some explaining to do
Special to The Spokesman-Review
When a Democratic state insurance commissioner and a Democratic president can't agree on the proper implementation of arguably one of the nation's most expensive, most impactful and most passionately debated programs in recent history – Houston, we have a problem.
This exact scenario played out recently when President Obama reversed his previous course by saying that insurance carriers could extend individual and small business health plans that do not meet the standards of Obamacare. Ostensibly, the president felt compelled to make this offer in order to make some amends following a disastrous roll out of his national health care plan.
But rather than follow the lead of his president, or even check with local insurance carriers, Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler made an immediate – and some would say ill-advised – decision to not implement the president's directive. This decision continues a long stream of broken promises we've seen surrounding Obamacare.
The public was originally told, “Hey, if you like your insurance plan, you'll be able to keep it.” Turns out, that's not entirely true. Just ask the 290,000 Washingtonians who recently received health plan cancellation notices. Apparently, the correct narrative should have been, “Hey, if WE like your insurance plan, WE will let you keep it.”
We were also told we could keep our doctors. Much has been written about the trust, confidence and comfort found in the doctor/patient relationship, so I won't beat a dead horse. Suffice to say, my doctor knows me like no other (besides my spouse) and I can't imagine having to start over with a new doctor unless it was on my terms and initiated by me.
Turns out, many consumers will have to change doctors. If a person has to change insurance carriers, there is a possibility of having to switch doctors as well.
We were also told that health plans will be cheaper. The Manhattan Institute recently conducted a study that showed the average premiums pre and post Obamacare could be as much as 21-44 percent higher, depending on age. The only “cheaper” plans are for those who qualify for highly-subsidized exchange plans or Medicaid.
In essence, the government is turning the ship upside down. Those who were doing the right thing by purchasing health insurance they could afford and met their needs are now being told they can't keep their plan, may not be able to keep their doctor, and have to purchase plans that are typically more expensive.
Here in our state, because we have a website that works, Washington has been lauded as an example of what's going right with the implementation of Obamacare. However, we now know that thousands of calls to Washington Healthplanfinder's hotline have gone unanswered. Still, we can't let a working website detract us from the wrongs that we can right.
For example, Commissioner Kreidler has not yet approved association health care plans, leaving approximately 500,000 individuals in limbo as to their health insurance. Associations have offered some of the best insurance plans in the state. The commissioner has been trying to change the laws and rules surrounding association health plans for the past several years, but he's been unsuccessful. It looks like he's now using Obamacare as a tool to make the changes he wants, adding uncertainty for existing employers or for those who might ponder moving their operations to Washington state.
To many, the problems listed in this column are the direct result of what happens when elected leaders (Nancy Pelosi) have to “Pass it, to find out what's in it.” And, while there are many things our insurance commissioner cannot control, there are some things he can and should act upon immediately.
Commissioner Kreidler, is the goal of Obamacare to have everybody on health insurance? Or to have everybody on government (taxpayer) subsidized health insurance? Why are you not approving association health plans – the very health plans that are the epitome of success in the health insurance market?
And finally, why are you making it so difficult for people to keep their insurance if they want it? The president seems to think it's a good idea, for now.
Commissioner Kreidler, you have some explaining to do.
(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is the ranking member on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee and also serves on the House Appropriations Committee.)