Washington state Health Benefit Exchange has to be done right

The exchange, mandated by ObamaCare, is supposed to be a one-stop place for consumers to buy insurance at competitive prices.

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ObamaCare will be a reality in 2014, so Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and his counterparts across the nation are working to establish the required health insurance exchanges.

And, given ObamaCare still divides the nation along partisan lines, it’s no surprise bickering continues to follow the process.

Let’s hope the carping between Republicans and Democrats — at least in Washington state — results in the affordable health care that was promised.

It is too late to change the law. Congress has already established the legal requirements for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

ObamaCare — aka the Affordable Care Act — requires states to create exchanges, which are essentially competitive marketplaces for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance. In theory, exchanges should provide one-stop shopping to compare benefits and get the best prices.

When theory becomes reality the low prices for great coverage might not be available. However, since the public policy is adopted, it’s time to try to do what’s necessary so those who don’t have insurance have access to insurance.

Kreidler, a Democrat, recently rejected some applications by insurance companies to list policies with the exchange.

The action was been denounced by Republican state Sen. Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee because she fears the elimination of insurance companies from the pool will reduce competition.

Parlette said the “companies that have dominated Washington’s insurance market in recent years will likely operate without new competition in the exchange.” The four companies are Premera, Lifewise, Bridgespan and Group Health Cooperative, although Lifewise is a subsidiary of Premera.

“There are really only three different companies offering plans,” she said.

Parlette makes a valid point.

So, too, does Kreidler when he explains why the other companies were rejected. He said the applications were not accepted because the companies’ coverage offerings did not meet the established legal requirements.

Kreidler said he believes the 31 plan choices from the companies will be sufficient.

“They’re quality plans with good benefits. More people will be able to get covered than ever before and the plans are higher quality and offer better value,” he said.

Let’s hope so.

But if the rates are not competitive, it could make sense to take another look at the rejected proposal as Parlette suggests.

Health insurance is one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. Washington state officials, regardless of political party, have got to do what is best for the public.

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