News Clips— Sick get sicker

A PRECARIOUS victory in the battle to keep health insurance rates affordable for the state's sickest people was struck another blow last week.

Starting September 1, monthly premiums should double-or in some cases almost triple-for nearly 1,000 people enrolled in the Washington State Health Insurance Pool (WSHIP). This state-run plan, one of the last remaining vestiges of legislative health care reform, offers health insurance for sick people who have been denied coverage elsewhere.

Nearly a month ago, the WSHIP board voted unanimously not to increase premiums by the maximum amount allowed by law for those on the plan who are also enrolled in Medicare (all persons under age 65 who are either severely ill or disabled). Because the rate increase was still sizeable, the board requested legal approval to institute it over a three-year period.

That initial legal opinion, though, said the board isn't allowed to "phase in" an increase but must institute it in full immediately, says Sean Corry, an insurance broker and the WSHIP vice chair. That means a person under age 29 on the plan who is currently paying $70 per month will pay $202 per month come fall. Those who are over the age of 60 can expect to see their monthly premiums rise from $291 to $381 per month.

"I don't personally agree with it—and I'm afraid some people will not be able to afford the plan and will drop the insurance they need," says Corry, who plans to ask the board to investigate the matter further before allowing the full increase to go through.

Whether he stands a fighting chance of convincing the other members to challenge the legal opinion is unclear.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," he says. "There is ambiguity in the law. We voted unanimously to phase in the increase, and we should do our best to make sure that happens."

Leah Kohlenberg

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