- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - People who buy their health insurance on the Washington Healthplanfinder exchange can expect an average 4.2 percent increase in their rates in 2016.

The rate increases approved Thursday by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner are lower than the insurance companies had requested. Some company’s insurance rates will be going down, including Kaiser and Group Health.

Insurance officials have approved 12 health insurance companies to sell 136 individual health plans on Washington Healthplanfider in 2016. The companies requested an average rate change of 5.4 percent.

Last year, 10 insurance companies were approved to sell 90 individual plans on the exchange. The insurance commissioner approved rate increases averaging 1.9 percent last year.

This year’s rates are probably a better predictor of the future of the individual health insurance market than last year’s rates, said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the insurance commissioner’s office.

These rates were set after a full year in the marketplace, when insurance companies got a better idea of who would buy their plans, how sick they were and how many claims they would make.

“The first year they were making an educated guess,” Marquis said. “Now they have real experience to base their rates on.”

Health insurance rates have gone up every year, historically, but rate increases since health reform have been much slower than they were in the past, she said. Before the Affordable Care Act, individual health insurance rates increased by double-digits most years.

The board that runs the exchange also voted to approve the carriers and their plans on Thursday.

“The level of competition in our market today is clear evidence that health reform is working in Washington state,” Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said.

The increase in competition makes the rate approval process more complicated, since they have to work harder to keep the playing field level, he said.

Three companies will be new to the individual market on the exchange for 2016: Health Alliance Northwest Health Plan, Regence BlueShield and United Healthcare of Washington.

Three other health insurance companies have applied to sell individual coverage only outside the exchange. Those companies are Asuris, Group Health Options and Regence Blue Shield of Oregon. Their rates and plans are under review by the insurance commissioner’s office.

Three companies have been approved to sell inside Washington Healthplanfinder’s small business program: Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, Moda, and UnitedHealthcare of Washington.

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