Walsh introduces Washington Patient Choice Restoration Act

Legislative proposal seeks to help increase healthcare coverage options for rural residents.

Today in Olympia, Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, introduced the Washington Patient Choice Restoration Act. The bill would make it easier for individual health insurance providers to offer coverage in many rural counties, including Grays Harbor. House Bill 2228 exempts insurers in counties with one or fewer individual plans from state requirements that exceed federal law relating to benefits, coverage, and provider networks.

“This bill is good for Grays Harbor, and other rural counties in need of healthcare coverage options,” says Walsh. “Removing the state-only mandates, which are often more stringent than federal law, is the quickest path to giving consumers more choices. This approach adds options faster than any other method currently being considered.”

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange was intended to increase the availability of healthcare coverage through the private health insurance market. However, a number of factors including poor-health rankings in some regions, heavy financial losses by insurance carriers, and the uncertainty of the future of the exchange, have led many insurers to withdraw from offering coverage in rural counties. The result has been a significant decrease in carrier participation, leaving many rural county residents with few, if any, options for health insurance coverage.

Walsh's bill would help to increase consumer choices. Under the proposal, state market rules would no longer require insurers who offer “bronze” plans outside of the exchange to also offer “silver” and “gold” plans. These same state-only mandates would also be reformed to allow greater flexibility in the sale of catastrophic plans. These requirements would only be exempt if they did not violate federal law.

“This change increases access to health insurance coverage instead of decreasing it – especially in rural counties,” continued Walsh.

Under current law, health insurers must file their plans with the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) in late spring, or early summer. After approved, the plans can only be offered for sale in the subsequent plan year. Walsh's bill would extend the filing period by an additional 60-days for counties with one or fewer health coverage plans available. The OIC would then be required to continue to approve the plans in subsequent plan years until three or more health plans are available in the affected counties.

House Bill 2228 has been referred to the House Health Care and Wellness Committee where it awaits a public hearing.





Washington State House Republican Communications