Small employers in Washington state are facing double-digit increases in health insurance rates for 2023, in some cases.
In most cases, these small employers, which the state defines as those with 50 or fewer employees, are seeing the biggest premium increases in years.
Seattle-based Premera Blue Cross, which has one of the largest market shares in Washington state, had the largest increase, at 11.64%.
Other rate increases in Eastern Washington include a 10.94% hike for the Kaiser Foundation of Washington health plan, a 9.74% jump for the Health Alliance Northwest health plan, a 8.21% for Asuris Northwest Health and a 5.75% increase for Regence BlueShield, among others. carriers.
Only one insurer in eastern Washington, the Aetna Life Insurance health plan, will lower its rates.
The median increase among the 11 carriers is 5.18%.
The new insurance rates were approved by the Office of the Washington State Insurance Commissioner and released Nov. 1, giving employers two months to purchase different plans or absorb increased costs.
Nate Edmondson, vice president of Advanced Professional Insurance & Benefit Solutions, a wholesale industry consultant for Spokane-based Associated Industries, said it’s no surprise rates are rising.
However, the 2023 rate increases in most markets are the highest he has seen in several years.
“We are finally seeing the effects of COVID hitting. We know it had an impact on people’s health,” Edmondson said. “Now these things are roosting with insurance company rates trending up.”
Amanda Lansford, head of strategic communications for Premera Blue Cross, said the rate increases for small group plans reflect the continued rise in health care costs.
Lansford noted that over the past year, the carrier has seen substantial increases in costs from people using their plan more frequently and an increase in the cost of care in hospitals.
“From our side, this increase really reflects the increase in costs and frequency of use,” she said. “Hospitals face high administrative costs, especially with a labor shortage, a surge in traveling nurses and the workforce in general.”
Lansford said many people delayed seeking care during the height of the pandemic, increasing demand for care and playing on increased frequency of use over the past year.
She said the pause in care during the pandemic includes people who are not receiving care for bigger issues like diabetes or cancer, which if not caught early can lead to more care. expensive.
Edmonson said he’s heard the term “long COVID” used more frequently by agents, brokers and carriers.
Long COVID or post-COVID conditions include a range of new, recurrent or persistent health conditions that people experience after becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.
Edmondson said small group insurance companies file for rate increases or decreases in the spring that are approved or adjusted in October.
During this time, he works with carriers, brokers and other professionals to understand the reasons for rate changes and notifies customers of potential changes.
“We try to collect as much information as possible, not only to inform our customers, but also to understand why things cost more,” he said. “Often it’s a simple ratio of how much (carriers) pay out in claims and how much they get in premiums.”
Edmonson said he acquires as much information to keep his clientele up to date so that when rates are approved, there aren’t many surprises.
“Good or bad, we want to prepare people for what to expect in the new year as best we can,” he said.
Edmondson said he encourages employers to compare their health care coverage, compare rates and switch to another carrier if a plan is no longer something they can afford or need.
He also advises employers to make sure they offer insurance options that meet the needs of their workforce.
“Don’t pay more than you think you’ll use,” he said. “If you don’t use it, you don’t get it back.”
Stefanie Howe, director of marketing for Spokane-based Associated Industries, said the association is currently fielding numerous requests for quotes for the organization’s industry-specific health plan.
She also said the association’s health plan landing page is seeing traffic double from the previous year.
“I think it meets the market demand for smaller employers,” she said.
Howe said Associated Industries has 645 member employers, about half of whom currently access the association’s industry-specific health plan.
Specific industries eligible for the plan include construction, manufacturing, healthcare, retail and business services.
She said the association is an employers’ association focused on providing resources to small and medium-sized businesses, but members are not always aware that the association sponsors a health plan.
However, she noticed that many members were asking for access to the association’s health plan, which is underwritten by Asuris Northwest Health.
“The value is really in this bundle of dental, medical, vision and disability care,” she said. “It’s really to offer it to make it more accessible and comprehensive for small employers.
However, she noted, it’s important for employers to shop around, as the package might not be right for everyone.
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