A new report by the Society of Actuaries predicts that medical claims costs for individual health insurance plans -- meaning coverage that people have to buy on their own, rather than get through an employer or government program -- will rise 13.7 percent in Washington by 2017. That's substantially less than in many other states.
About 300,000 Washingtonians now buy their own insurance on the individual market. That number's expected to increase sharply next year as people who are now uninsured start buying coverage.
It's too soon at this point to say what the final rates will be. We don't expect to see the first rate proposals for these policies until next month, and premiums include more than just medical claims costs.
There is, however, some good news for many of these folks. The report does not attempt, for example, to factor in the federal subsidies that many people in the individual market will qualify for, starting in January. Under federal health care reform, a family of four earning up to $94,200 could qualify for help paying for their insurance.
Also, under health care reform, the vast majority of policies will cover much more than they do today. It's rare, for example, to find an individual health plan that covers prescription drugs. Many don't cover the birth of a child. Starting in January, most policies will have to cover those things and more.
Lastly, the sad fact is that the individual health insurance market is no stranger to big increases in rates. In 2009 -- well before health care reform -- those policies in Washington rose an average of 16.5 percent. That's in a single year. And the year before that was even worse: an average increase of 18 percent.