For Immediate Release: April 10, 2015

Budget Statement from Washington Health Benefit Exchange Chair Ron Sims

OLYMPIA, WA

Today, Ron Sims, Board Chair for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, issued the following statement:

“The Exchange has been working closely with both legislative chambers to determine a biennium budget that will allow us to continue to serve one-in-four Washington residents that have come through our doors to obtain public or private health coverage, as well as meet the needs of those who will be using Washington Healthplanfinder to enroll in the future.

Currently, House Budget 1106 provides a funding level of $124 million that is comparable to other state-based marketplaces and allows the Exchange to maintain its current level of operations, provide an adequate customer support network and make needed website improvements over the next two years. The proposed budget model also funds the Exchange through a current two percent state tax on all health insurance premiums associated with Exchange enrollment, assessments for insurance companies that offer Qualified Health Plans offered through the marketplace, and funding from the Health Care Authority for Medicaid services provided by the Exchange.

Conversely, Senate Budget 5077 provides a lower $85.9 million budget for the Exchange that threatens the viability of Washington Healthplanfinder and has considerable impacts to our customers, insurance companies and the long-term success of the Exchange. The proposed budget does not allow the Exchange to utilize any state funding generated from the current two percent state tax, as well as reimbursements for outreach and enrollment services provided to more than 1.8 million Medicaid customers. The Senate proposal will also drive up the cost of health plans by relying primarily on increasing the current assessment to participating companies by 238 percent.

We have significant concerns about how the resulting premium increase will impact new and existing customers, who may already be struggling to afford their premium payments. In addition, the Senate funding level will require that the Exchange provide less than adequate levels of staffing at the toll-free Customer Support Center, cut funding for the statewide Navigator program to assist residents with enrollment, eliminate critical internal staff positions who handle eligibility and enrollment issues, and remove all funding to address needed IT enhancements.

The Exchange Board is very concerned by the recent Senate budget proposal and will continue to analyze the affordability and service level impacts to our customers. First and foremost, we are focused on doing what is best for the people of Washington and look to partner with the legislature to create a workable budget that allows us to continue our mission of providing access to affordable health insurance plans for all Washington State residents.”

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