This report was updated to show Kreidler's figures are for people covered, not policies.
The exact impact of federal health reform on Washington’s estimated 990,000 uninsured may not be known for another year. But state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler released data this week showing that the troubled individual market for health insurance has grown by about 45,000 people since the Washington Health Benefit Exchange’s website began signing up consumers last Oct. 1.
All told, Kreidler said nearly 325,000 people are now covered in the individual market, which had about 278,000 covered when the exchange opened. About 146,500 individuals also signed up for private insurance through the exchange as of March 31, the deadline for coverage in 2014.
Kreidler’s office says that based on data supplied by insurers that another 178,981 enrolled in private insurance plans sold outside the exchange at Wahealthplanfinder.org.
"Today's numbers represent the first significant growth in the individual health insurance market that we've seen in four years," Kreidler said in a news release. "One of the underlying goals of the Affordable Care Act, and what made it so meaningful, was its potential to improve the health insurance market for the people who buy their own coverage. Today's enrollment numbers clearly show we're moving in the right direction."
In addition, more than 268,000 Washington newly eligible adults in Washington gained coverage since Oct. 1 through Medicaid, the federally and state subsidized health program for low income people. Another 135,485 signed up in other Medicaid categories, including children.
Kreidler was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday with other state insurance commissioners to meet with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House and to talk about the next steps for reform, which Kreidler's office details here.
Despite Kreidler's claims of progress, the Democratic insurance commissioner’s numbers still don’t entirely put to rest a claim made by critics that people lost health coverage when the exchanges opened – as a result of old policies failing to meet new coverage standards. And he doesn't put to rest the possibility that most of those signing up through the exchange were people who lost insurance, but now are getting it - most of them with tax subsidies.
Republican Sen. Steve O’Ban of Tacoma is among those who have argued that because the ACA led to cancellations, the state should have let consumers keep their old plans, and he introduced legislation earlier this year to let consumers buy plans from out of state that currently are not allowed. O’Ban’s bill passed the Senate on a partisan vote but failed to move in the Democrat-controlled House.
Kreidler has said that allowing substandard plans to continue would have created turbulence in the insurance market and that insurers didn’t want to turn back the clock, either.
At this point it’s hard to say how many people who lost policies were unable to replace it or how many of the newcomers to coverage through the exchange had policies that were canceled. But Kreidler’s office says it may have a better answer in another month.
Only about 40,000 of the individual market policies were grandfathered in after the Affordable Care Act’s higher standards were put in place. Higher standards, which Kreidler enforced through the plans he allowed to be sold on the exchange, ensured coverage of prescription drugs, emergency visits to the hospital and other kinds of care.