Wash. rebuts Obama plan to allow old health insurance policies

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington state's insurance commissioner says President Barack Obama's proposal on old insurance policies isn't a good deal for Washington citizens.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler said Thursday he won't allow insurance companies to extend their old policies that didn't meet the requirements of federal health care reform. An estimated 290,000 Washington residents have received notices that their old insurance policies will be canceled.

"Trying to do what the president has proposed would be very disruptive to the insurance market in the state of Washington so no, we will not be allowing insurance companies to extend these policies," he said. "You'd have to go back and re-rate all of the policies, and the premises for what they originally proposed rates would all change."

Kreidler, a Democrat, says all of them can get better coverage on the new health care exchange. He says at least half of them will qualify for a subsidy to help them pay the premium.

"I have empathy for these people, I certainly feel for them, but at the same time, people really have a chance right now to shop and compare various health plans and make some decisions that best fits themselves and their families in ways that could never do before," Kreidler said. "But if you wind up extending these current plans that are out there, you really disrupt the ability for that to happen."

When asked if he was worried his decision was going to upset those who just heard earlier in the day they could keep their insurance, Kreidler replied that having the new policies that meet minimum coverage requirements will be beneficial to them in case of a major health incident.

"They have so much broader coverage that really protects themselves and their families in ways that their current policies do not. They're still going to be winners," he said.

The president announced earlier in the day he would allow insurance companies to keep selling their old plans to people whose policies were going to be canceled. But that decision requires state approval.

"I do not believe his proposal is a good deal for the state of Washington," Kreidler said.

He is encouraging Washington citizens who have received a cancellation notice to check out the plans on the Washington Healthplanfinder.

"For many of those people, they find there's a better deal out there for themselves or their families," he said.

Health care reform has improved insurance coverage by requiring insurers to cover prescription drugs, maternity care and set reasonable limits on out-of-pocket costs, said Kreidler, who called the improvements significant and good for consumers.

Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 7, more than 9,000 people have selected a private health insurance plan through the marketplace in Washington state. Another 68,532 found out they were eligible for free insurance under Medicaid. And another 81,166 have completed applications for insurance, but have not finished the sign up process.