Slowing Large Health Insurance Premium Increases

All Americans should have access to high-quality, affordable health care. We can’t let the rising cost of health care continue to bankrupt our families, businesses and government. We have to take steps to make health care more affordable, and enhance the quality of care our families are receiving.

I am pleased to report that the Affordable Care Act is helping to do this for Washingtonians in a very important way. Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new resources aimed at ensuring that Washington and other States have the tools they need to hold insurance companies accountable and put a halt to unreasonable premium increases. The announcement of $46 million in grants to the States to help conduct rate reviews, a process that requires insurers to submit their proposed health insurance premium increases to State Insurance Departments for review before they go into effect, is an incredibly important step forward in reforming the health insurance marketplace.

Rate review has worked here in Washington State – rates for some individual health plans in Washington increased by up to 40 percent until we stepped in to impose stiffer premium oversight. The new resources provided through these grants will enhance our ability to crack down on unjustified rate hikes by insurance companies.

Here’s how we’ll put these funds to good use in Washington:

  • Improve the Review Process: Washington already conducts in-depth review of proposed premium increases for individuals and small groups. We will use these grant funds to update and improve our IT systems for these reviews. All grantees will use these funds to make similar updates – and require insurance companies to report more extensive information through a new, standardized process to better evaluate proposed premium increases and increase transparency across the marketplace.
  • Make More Information Publicly Available: Like 41 other States and the District of Columbia, Washington is going to increase the transparency of the health insurance premium review process and provide easy to understand, consumer-friendly information to the public about changes to their premiums. In our case, we will create a web based consumer website called “Consumer Care" to provide information about the cost and quality of health care.
  • Develop and Upgrade Technology: All grantees, including Washington, will develop and upgrade existing technology to streamline data sharing and put information in the hands of consumers more quickly.

The funds are the first round of a five year, $250 million grant program made available under the Affordable Care Act. I am looking forward to the new opportunities these funds will bring to Washington – our actions will help businesses facing hard decisions about their budgets and will help families, who all too often find that maintaining insurance in the current market given large annual premium increases is not feasible. These initiatives will allow Washingtonians, and all Americans, to know that insurance companies will be held accountable for raising rates – a critical step in making health insurance affordable for all Americans.

To read more about rate review, visit HealthCare.gov.

Chris Gregoire is Governor, Washington State

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