The percentage of uninsured individuals living in Lewis County has dropped since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but affordability still hinders some residents from purchasing health insurance.
In 2011, before the Affordable Care Act, 17.1 percent of people living in Lewis County were uninsured. By 2017 that number dropped to 9 percent uninsured, according to Washington Healthplanfinder.
For that 9 percent, one reason individuals may be uninsured my because they are young, often referred to as the “young invincibles,” who don’t feel the need for health insurance, said Michael Marchand, chief of marketing at Washington Healthplanfinder.
However, Marchand said affordability is the main barrier for health insurance, which often is a second priority after rent, mortgage, car payments, childcare or an electric bill.
“As prices increase, it becomes a very hard decision for people. We’ve done focus groups and it always amazes me because we will ask people ‘can you afford insurance?’ and they’ll say ‘at this time I can’t afford it,’ but when you ask them if they want insurance everyone’s hand goes up,” said Marchand.
Lewis County has three exchange health insurance carriers, Coordinated Care, Kaiser Foundation, and LifeWise Health Plan. The lowest “Silver Plan” costs for each carrier is as follows: Coordinated Care: $362, Kaiser Foundation: $457, and LifeWise Health Plan: $491, according to Washington Healthplanfinder. Depending on the individual’s income, the price could be lower if he or she qualifies for tax credits. Non-exchange plans in Lewis County are only available through Kaiser Foundation.
In Lewis County, there were less than 800 individuals enrolled for 2020 with Coordinated Care, less than 600 with Kaiser Foundation of Washington, and less than 200 with LifeWise Health Plan, according to information provided by Washington Healthplanfinder.
As of September of 2019, there were over 21,000 individuals living in Lewis County signed up for healthcare coverage through Washington Apple Health, the state’s version of Medicaid.
Washington Healthplanfinder is the website for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange and is available to Washington residents who are not insured through an employer.
Open enrollment for 2020 has closed and will reopen on Nov. 1 2020. Individuals may be able to enroll before then if they qualify for special enrollment which would include circumstances such as loss of a job that had provided coverage, marriage, or birth of a child.
In comparison, Grays Harbor County has one insurance carrier available through the health exchange, and no non-exchange plans available.
Thurston County residents have access to five companies with exchange plans and two with non-exchange plans, according to information that can be found on the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner website.
Marchand said it is difficult to say whether or not Lewis County has “good” insurance coverage because it really depends on the circumstances of the individual. Factors such as family size, marriage status, income, age, tax credit qualifications, and health concerns can change the perception of the coverage.
“We’re fortunate to live in a state where we built our own state-based marketplace and by doing so we have managed to create a market that best serves people who work and call Washington state home,” said Marchand. “I know that in other states it has been much more challenging and we are lucky in the sense that we have people on both sides of the aisle that care about the health insurance needs of our residents.”