With most of the Affordable Care Act’s major provisions now in effect, the nation’s health insurance marketplace has undergone a significant transformation. Obamacare impacts individuals, families and small business owners alike. Most Americans are required to have minimum essential coverage unless they qualify for an exemption; however, the law is designed to make health insurance more accessible and affordable with income-based financial assistance and one-stop shopping via state-based and federally facilitated exchanges. Meanwhile, the private marketplace remains a place to shop for quality, affordable health insurance plans that meet ACA requirements.
The following guide offers a glimpse at the various types of ACA-compliant health insurance in Washington, including individual and family health plans, small group health plans, coverage for high-risk applicants, mini-COBRA continuation coverage, Medicaid, and CHIP.
Health and healthcare in Washington
Washington placed 13th in United Health Foundation’s 2014 America’s Health Rankings.1 Its strengths include a low rate of drug deaths, a high rate of high school graduation, and few poor mental and physical health days per month. North Dakota’s biggest health challenges include a high prevalence of binge drinking, a high prevalence of obesity, and a high rate of occupational fatalities.
Washington individual and family health insurance
Washington launched its state-based health insurance exchange on Oct. 1, 2013. The online marketplace Washington Healthplanfinder was created as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The exchange offers individual and family health plans, as well as small business group coverage.
Those who buy health insurance through Washington’s exchange may be eligible for income-based subsidies, including premium tax credits that may be applied to any metal plan and cost-sharing subsidies that apply to silver plans. Individuals who go without health insurance may face a tax penalty known as the shared responsibility payment.
However, Washington’s health insurance marketplace is not limited to Washington Healthplanfinder. As in all states, consumers may buy Obamacare qualified health plans in the private marketplace. Websites such as HealthCare.com help individuals and families find minimum essential coverage and supplemental plans. Check out HealthCare.com’s tax subsidy calculator to see if you qualify for a premium tax credit. If you do, visit the Washington Healthplanfinder exchange to apply for health insurance coverage.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 163,207 individuals in Washington selected a marketplace plan through the exchange from Oct. 1, 2013, through April 19, 2014.2 In 2015, the number of individuals in Washington enrolled in a marketplace plan was 160,732 during the open enrollment period.3
|Washington’s health insurance exchange:||wahealthplanfinder.org|
|Washington department of insurance:||insurance.wa.gov|
Washington small group health insurance plans
In Washington, small businesses with 50 or fewer employees may purchase small group health insurance plans through the Washington Healthplanfinder exchange and in the private marketplace through websites such as such as HealthCare.com. Small businesses that use Washington Healthplanfinder and have 25 or fewer employees may qualify for a Small Business Healthcare Tax Credit.
Self-employed individuals with no employees must apply for an individual health insurance plan on or away from the state’s exchange.
Washington state COBRA variations for small groups
The Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA) allows those employed by businesses with 20 or more employees to continue their group health insurance plan for a limited time should they lose coverage due to qualifying events such as termination of employment due to reasons other than gross misconduct, a reduction in work hours, divorce or legal separation, and loss of dependency status. To learn more about the federal COBRA program, visit dol.gov/ebsa/cobra.html.
In some states, those who work for a small business and lose health insurance coverage due to a qualifying event may be eligible for health insurance continuation through mini-COBRA or a similar state continuation program. In a few states, these programs may also be extended to those who work for larger companies and exhaust their federal COBRA continuation coverage limit. Mini-COBRA generally works like the federal COBRA continuation coverage, but its terms may vary.
The state of Washington does not have a small group COBRA continuation law.
Washington high-risk pools
It used to be that health insurance companies could deny applicants or charge them more based on health history and preexisting conditions. When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, many states created federally funded preexisting condition insurance programs or accepted federal funding to assist with similar high-risk pool programs they already operated.4
The Affordable Care Act prohibits this practice for health insurance plans considered minimum essential coverage with effective dates beginning Jan. 1, 2014, and later. As such, the PCIPs and state high-risk pools created to provide health insurance for those once considered uninsurable are being phased out.
Medicaid is a state health insurance program for low-income individuals under age 65, pregnant women, children, disabled individuals, and seniors over age 65; it is partially funded by the federal government. In 2014, states were given the option to accept additional federal funding and expand their Medicaid program eligibility to those who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (effectively 138 percent due to how it is calculated, according to HealthCare.gov). 13
Washington expanded its Medicaid program in 2014.6 Medicaid/CHIP open enrollment takes place year-round.
The information below is specific to Apple Health, Washington’s Medicaid program:
|Governing agency||Centers for Medicare & Medicaid|
|Administrator||Washington State Department of Human Services|
|How to apply||washingtonhealthplanfinder.org|
|Open-enrollment period||Year-round in all states|
The Children’s Health Insurance Program is a partnership between the states and federal government. CHIP provides health insurance to uninsured children who meet certain eligibility guidelines.
The information below is specific to Apple Health for Kids, Washington’s health insurance program for low-income children:
|Program name||Apple Health for Kids|
|How to apply||washingtonhealthplanfinder.org|
|Phone number||877-KIDS-NOW (877-543-7669)|
|Eligibility||Children under age 19; based on income and household size|
1 United Health Foundation. 2014 America’s Health Rankings Annual Edition. “Annual State Health Rankings.” http://www.americashealthrankings.org
2 Kaiser Family Foundation http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/state-marketplace-statistics-2014/.
3 Kaiser Family Foundation http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/state-marketplace-statistics-2015/.
4 National Conference of State Legislators. Coverage of Uninsurable Pre-Existing Conditions: State and Federal High-Risk Pools. Updated April 2014. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/high-risk-pools-for-health-coverage.aspx.
5 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “Medicaid Expansion & What It Means for You.” HealthCare.gov. N.D. Retrieved from https://www.healthcare.gov/what-if-my-state-is-not-expanding-medicaid/.
6 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “Washington.” Medicaid.gov. N.D. Retrieved from http://www.medicaid.gov/Medicaid-CHIP-Program-Information/By-State/washington.html.