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Washington Health Exchange Profile


Establishing the Exchange

On May 11, 2011, Governor Christine Gregoire (D) signed SB 5445 into law establishing the Washington Health Benefit Exchange (HBE). Additional Exchange legislation signed by the Governor in March 2012, removed limitations on the Board’s governing authority over the Exchange (HB 2319). In October 2012, the state announced that the online marketplace would be called Washington Healthplanfinder.

Structure: The legislation defines Washington’s Exchange as a quasi-governmental organization, specifically a “self-sustaining public-private partnership separate and distinct from the state.”

Governance: The Exchange is governed by an 11-member board, including two non-voting, ex officio members (or their designees): the Insurance Commissioner and the Administrator of the Health Care Authority. The Governor will appoint eight voting board members from lists of nominees created by the two largest caucuses in the House and Senate. The legislation specifies that appointees must include at least one employee benefits specialist, one health economist or actuary, one representative of small business, and one health consumer advocate. The remaining voting members should possess related expertise in areas such as individual or small employer health care coverage, health benefit plan administration, or health care finance. The Governor will appoint a ninth member to the Board who will serve as chair and vote only when needed in case of a tie. Voting board members cannot be legislators or employees of the state or its political subdivisions. The Governor cannot appoint members whose participation in Board decisions would benefit their own financial interests or those they represent. Members developing these conflicts of interest should resign or be removed from the Board.

Current appointed Board members are:

  • Margaret Stanley (Chair), formerly with Puget Sound Health Alliance and Regence Blue Shield
  • Steve Appel, farmer and formerly with Washington Farm Bureau
  • Bill Baldwin, The Partners Group
  • Don Conant, Valley Nut and Bolt and School of Business at St. Martin’s University
  • Doug Conrad, University of Washington School of Public Health
  • Melanie Curtice, Stoel Rives LLP
  • Ben Danielson, MD, Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic
  • Phil Dyer, Kibble & Prentice/USI and former state legislator
  • Teresa Mosqueda, Washington State Labor Council and Healthy Washington Coalition

The Board held their first meeting in early January and assumed governing authority over the Exchange on March 15, 2012. A few months later the Board hired a CEO.

Exchange legislation specifies the Board should establish advisory committees to represent the views of the health care industry and other stakeholders, and may also establish technical advisory committees or seek advice of technical experts. In addition, it requires the Exchange to consult with the American Indian Health Commission. In May 2012, the Board selected 17 Advisory Committee members to provide expertise and experience on various issues. Members include carriers, brokers, small employers, consumer advocates, a Tribal representative, and providers.

The Washington Health Care Authority assisted the Board in establishing HBE and was responsible for providing staff, resources, managing grants and other funds appropriated by the Legislature.  While HBE is now an independent organization, it continues to work closely with the Health Care Authority and other state agency partners, including the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The Exchange Board, the Insurance Commissioner, and the Washington Health Care Authority are all responsible for continuing to move Exchange implementation forward on an aggressive timetable. The Exchange Board has a policy decision timeline outlining when key decisions should be made.

Contracting with Plans: In early 2012, the Exchange formed a Plan Management Workgroup which includes representatives of the health insurance industry to provide input on how to offer individual and small group plans in the Exchange. In June 2012, the Board approved 19 criteria (all of which were specified in the ACA) to be the framework for health insurers’ participation in the Exchange. The OIC is responsible for reviewing nine criteria while the HBE will review the remaining ten. In February 2013, HBE released guidance that further details requirements for QHP participation in Healthplanfinder.

The Exchange intends to allow all qualified health plans (QHPs) meeting the minimum standards to participate in the Exchange in 2014. HB 2319 created new insurance market rules for plans sold inside and outside Healthplanfinder. If an insurer offers a bronze plan in the individual or small group markets outside the Exchange, it must also offer plans in the silver and gold levels for that same market. Catastrophic plans may only be sold inside of the Exchange. Issuers may participate in Healthplanfinder’s individual market, SHOP market, or both and are not required to participate in the same markets inside and outside of the Exchange. Issuers must offer at least one QHP at the silver level and one QHP at the gold level in order to participate in Healthplanfinder. Issuers are also required to offer a child-only plan at the same level of coverage as any QHP offered through Healthplanfinder. The OIC requires issuers to offer contracts to all Indian Health centers in their service area, and issuers must notify HBE of all such contracts.

Nine issuers filed with the OIC to provide a total of 57 proposed QHPs on the individual market, including four catastrophic plans. No platinum level plans were proposed for either market. OIC will review the plans to ensure their compliance with the ACA’s essential health benefits requirement and other state and regulatory requirements.  HBE intends to conduct final certification of QHPs for 2014 during Board meetings in July and August of 2013. HBE will certify QHPs annually and issuers will offer QHPs for a term of one year. QHP issuers must also sign a participation agreement with HBE in order to participate in Healthplanfinder. A draft participation agreement was released in May 2013 and issuers are expected to submit signed participation agreements to HBE by mid-July.

HB 2319 required that by the end of 2012, the Board establish a rating system for qualified health plans to assist consumers in evaluating plan choices.  In September 2012, the Board approved nine consumer rating factors and the use of specific corresponding data sources including the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) data for enrollee satisfaction and Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) data for provider reimbursement and promotion of primary care. QHP issuers must also document implementation of quality improvement strategies outlined by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and submitted strategies will be posted online for consumers to review.

Issuers must ensure that each QHP’s network is sufficient in the number and type of providers, including mental health and substance abuse specialists. The network must also satisfy the essential community providers standard outlined by the ACA and comply with the provisions set forth by the Public Health Service Act and Washington Administrative Code 284-43-200. QHP issuers may only contract with hospitals with more than 50 beds if the hospital has a patient safety evaluation system in place. The OIC will monitor compliance of network adequacy requirements and HBE will decertify QHPs of issuers that do not adhere to the standards. Issuers must also submit health care provider data to HBE for a network directory.

Rates will differ based on QHP service area, which will be determined by county. Consumers will be able to locate their service area and view premium rates by entering their zip code into Healthplanfinder. The OIC requires QHP issuers to provide justification for premium increases and will post justifications online for the public.

HBE will aggregate subscriber premiums and send the aggregated payments to the appropriate issuer. Subscribers enrolled in the individual market will also be allowed to pay premiums directly to the issuer.

Dental and Vision Benefits: A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for dental plans began meeting in June 2012 to provide professional perspective on dental issues and make recommendations to the Board. Due to existing state law requiring dental benefits to be offered and priced separately in the Exchange, Washington has had to evaluate how to best operationalize its offerings of dental benefits in the Exchange, while also adhering to existing federal requirements around pediatric dental as an essential health benefit required as part of all Exchange plans. The Dental TAC also held multiple meetings to develop Qualified Dental Plan (QDP) certification standards. In March 2013, HBE issued final guidance for participation of stand-alone pediatric dental plans in Healthplanfinder. Six issuers intend to offer dental plans. The Board expects to perform final certification of QDPs at their July and August meetings.

Risk adjustment, Reinsurance, and Risk corridors (RRR): In a presentation to the Exchange Board in September 2012, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s Workgroup on RRR expressed a preference for state operated risk adjustment programs. The OIC will monitor issuer compliance with the risk adjustment program; if the OIC determines that an issuer is not in compliance with program requirements, HBE will decertify all of the issuer’s QHPs.

Consumer Assistance and Outreach: In January 2013, the Board approved a proposal establishing a Navigator program comprised of Lead Organizations, organized by county service area or target population, that will contract with HBE to build, train, fund, and monitor networks of in-person assisters (IPAs) and Navigators.  IPAs and Navigators will perform the same services, including providing enrollment assistance, conducting community outreach, and maintaining ongoing relationships with consumers. HBE allocated $6 million of an Establishment grant for IPA Lead Organization contracts. IPAs will be phased out of the Navigator program in 2015. In March 2013, HBE issued a Request for Proposals for IPA Lead Organizations and applications were due April 22.  HBE received 19 proposals and grant awardees will be announced in late May.  An RFP for tribal assister services was released on April 5, 2013; responses are due by June 28.

In March 2013, HBE selected a vendor to implement and operate a customer support center. The center will be open from 7:30am through 8:00pm and will be staffed by 60 full-time Customer Service Representatives. Customer Service Representatives will be hired and trained this summer and must pass a final exam and be certified by a supervisor before taking customer calls. A translation service will be available to provide interpretation for approximately 175 languages and all representatives will be trained on how to rout calls to other agencies. The center will open September 1.

HBE is planning a marketing campaign that will be executed in four phases, starting with a soft launch in August and September 2013 to build Healthplanfinder brand awareness. HBE will utilize earned media, social media, and paid media as well as outreach to grassroots organizations and small businesses to spread awareness. HBE is also producing an eight-part “Countdown to Coverage” webinar series to educate consumers on the Affordable Care Act, how Healthplanfinder works, and the coverage options that will be available in 2014. In April 2013, HBE launched the Washington Healthplanfinder website, including a cost-estimate calculator.

HBE has created a logo that identifies QHPs as certified. Issuers are encouraged to use the logo to brand QHP marketing materials and may not modify the logo or use another logo to represent Healthplanfinder or QHP certification. QHP issuers are expected to create marketing and enrollment materials prior to October 1, 2013; however, HBE must approve the use of the logo on all materials.

Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchange: A SHOP TAC and an Agents and Brokers TAC were established in July 2012 to provide recommendations to the Board and began meeting a few months later. The TACs have been discussing the role of agents and brokers in the small group business (SHOP) exchange as well as the individual Exchange, compensation models, and agent and broker concerns around how the Exchange will impact their business. HBE expects producers to play a prominent role in the SHOP; however, their role is still being defined. Employers may offer a single health plan or a choice of health plans at a single metal level to employees and employer premium contribution must be at least 50% for employees. HBE requires 100% employee participation for employer groups with three or fewer employees and employee participation of 75% for employer groups with more than three employees. HBE will collect and aggregate employer premium payments.

While seven carriers initially submitted letters of intent to participate in the SHOP, most have since withdrawn due to concerns about operational readiness and risk. One carrier has indicated it will participate; however, it serves only five counties. In May 2013, the Board voted to launch the SHOP on October 1, 2013, despite the limited carrier participation.

Information Technology (IT): Development of the Exchange’s IT infrastructure has been led by the Washington Health Care Authority. IT plans include designing a system with a single point of entry for state health insurance programs that uses shared eligibility services for tax credits through the Exchange and Medicaid/CHIP, similar enrollment functions and some shared administrative functions. The Washington Health Care Authority secured a subcontractor in February 2012 to build an IT system integrator which would determine eligibility for Medicaid, CHIP, and the Exchange. The first seven deliverables have been built including functionalities for plan management, SHOP Employer functionality, SHOP employee enrollment, Individual eligibility and enrollment, financial management, and administrative functionality. The Exchange system will interface with the Medicaid systems (Provider One and ACES) to determine eligibility. Integration of the systems is underway and expected to be fully functional for the open enrollment period. The state has received approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for enhanced funding to upgrade Medicaid eligibility and enrollment systems.

In June 2012, the Exchange Board approved a requirement that the Exchange IT system design and build include the capability of the Exchange to aggregate premiums.

In February 2013, Washington was one of two states selected by the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) for a first wave of information technology system testing conducted by the federal government. Testing began in April and is intended to assess the infrastructure behind Healthplanfinder as well as its ability to integrate with federal data systems.

Financing: The Exchange Board is required to develop a methodology by the end of 2012 to ensure the Exchange is self-sustaining after 2014. HB 2319 gives the Board explicit authority to assess a surcharge on premiums. The Exchange is required to be self-sustaining without direct state tax subsidies, or else operations can be suspended. The Exchange Operations Committee evaluated options for Exchange financing including, requiring an assessment on qualified health plans based on either total membership or Exchange membership, imposing a new tax on hospital revenue, and/or charging a user fee for Exchange members or employers. After multiple meetings discussing self-sustainability around revenue models, the Board’s draft recommendation to the legislature was a 0.5% premium tax effective January 1, 2014 on all premiums and prepayment for health care services received. Then beginning January 1, 2015, the premium assessment would rise to 1.0%. Legislation to establish a financing mechanism for HBE (ESHB 1947) is currently being considered by the House and Senate. The bill reflects the Board’s recommendation.

Basic Health Program (BHP) Option: Washington has considered establishing an optional bridge program available through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which allows states to use federal funding to offer subsidized health insurance to adults with incomes between 139 and 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) who would otherwise be eligible to purchase subsidized coverage through an Exchange. The state released a proposal in June 2012 to operationalize a BHP, but awaits final approval from the federal government. Washington already operates the Washington Basic Health program, a state-sponsored program that provides low-income residents below 200% FPL with health care coverage through private health plans; however, this program would have to be modified to meet federal criteria for a BHP. The Washington Health Care Authority was required to submit a report to the Legislature on whether to proceed with implementation of a federal Basic Health Plan Option by the end of 2012.

Essential Health Benefits (EHB): The ACA requires that all non-grandfathered individual and small-group plans sold in a state, including those offered through the Exchange, cover certain defined health benefits. States must decide whether to benchmark their EHB plan to one of ten plans operating in the state or default to the largest small-group plan in the state. The state recommended the EHB benchmark be Blue Shield- Regence Innova Plan PPO. In addition, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will serve as the pediatric dental supplement, and the Federal Employee Vision Plan (FEDVIP) as the pediatric vision supplement. The Insurance Commissioner is required to submit annually to the Legislature a list of state-mandated benefits, the costs of which will be borne by the state.

Exchange Funding

The Washington Health Care Authority has received two federal grants: the Exchange Planning grant of almost $1 million and the Level One Establishment grant of approximately $23 million to be used for operational planning and to develop an information technology system for critical Exchange functions related to eligibility, enrollment and information exchange. In May 2012, the state was awarded a $127.8 million Level Two Establishment grant to fund Exchange development through December 2014.

Next Steps

On December 7, 2012, Washington received conditional approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a state-based exchange. Final approval is contingent upon the state demonstrating its ability to perform all required Exchange activities on time and complying with future guidance and regulations.

Additional information about the Washington Health Benefit Exchange can be found at:

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