Riccelli bill creates health insurance ‘backstop’ for underserved counties

OLYMPIA – Responding to ever-dwindling options in the state’s individual health insurance market, as well as uncertainty around the future of the federal Affordable Care Act, Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, has introduced legislation allowing people in communities where no individual health plans are offered in the commercial market to buy into Medicaid.

Called the Apple Health Plus program, it would enable eligible individuals to purchase health insurance coverage through the program in counties with no available commercial options.

“People deserve access to affordable, quality health coverage, regardless of where in the state they live,” Riccelli said. “Uncertainty at the federal level creates uncertainty in the health insurance marketplace. This bill would ensure people in underserved areas can still buy coverage if private insurers exit the market.”

Earlier this month, Grays Harbor and Klickitat counties were temporarily left without any health insurers offering plans in the individual market for 2018. After several weeks of discussions with the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, individual plans will be sold in both counties next year after all. But the predicament underscored the precarious situation in Washington’s individual market for some counties. Eight counties in the state have only one insurer.

Under Riccelli’s bill, Apple Health Plus would operate within Apple Health – the state’s Medicaid program – but it wouldn’t be Medicaid. Subscriber premiums would be deposited into a separate account, and anyone could buy into the plan regardless of income level. Benefits would be identical to what Medicaid recipients in the state receive.

Over 113,000 Washingtonians purchase health insurance through the state exchange and receive cost sharing deductions and tax credits for doing so. Changes at the federal level could affect access to coverage.

“The structure for this already exists,” Riccelli said of his proposal. “Apple Health is already working well in 39 counties. Let’s use that same model to help people who would otherwise be left with no comprehensive plan to cover themselves and their families.”

The bill number is HB 2232.