Insurers’ Letters Spur Washington State Consumer Alert

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The Washington state insurance commissioner issued a consumer alert Thursday advising state residents who buy their own health insurance to know their options when choosing their next health plan.

The commissioner’s office issued the alert in response to dozens of phone calls and emails from consumers upset by letters from insurance carriers informing them their current health plan would be discontinued at the end of the year.

Insurance carriers are replacing their current individual health plans with new insurance products that include the essential health benefits and limits on cost-sharing required under the federal Affordable Care Act.

All of the carriers have sent customers a 90-day notice that their current plan will be discontinued. The letters also suggest a specific health plan –- one of the insurer’s other products –- as a replacement.

The letters sent by Regence Blue Shield and Group Health Cooperative also state that consumers can explore additional health-plan options available from other carriers and through the state’s new health-insurance exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder.

But the letters sent by Premera Blue Cross and its subsidiary LifeWise Health Plan of Washington do not mention these other options.

“Companies are required to give you notice if they’re replacing your plan,” Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a statement. “But, unfortunately, they may not include all of your options — including your right to pick a new plan from a different company, or buy through the new exchange,”

The insurance commissioner’s office  is concerned that this omission may mislead consumers, said  spokesperson Stephanie Marquis.

The regulator had advised all of the carriers that they include information about Washington Healthplanfinder in their discontinuation letters. Only Premera and LifeWise did not do so, Marquis said.

The OIC offers a map of exchange plans by county and the plan rates on its website.