State's health-exchange rates to increase by 24 percent

SEATTLE -- The board for Washington's health-insurance exchange has approved an average rate increase of 24 percent, the largest premium increase since the exchange began in 2013.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange board approved the rate increase this week.

Our news partner The Seattle Times reports about 180,000 customers will be affected.

Health exchange spokesman Michael Marchand says the increase is primarily due to rising costs for prescription drugs.

"We at the exchange understand that, yes, this is going to create a challenging environment that is going to be difficult" for customers, Marchand said.

Marchand said also impacting the exchange are the unknown future of the individual mandate, which requires people to be insured, and not knowing if the federal government will continue to pay cost-sharing payments to insurers.

While the average rate increase is large, Marchand said about 60 percent of exchange customers could have their costs offset by tax credits granted to consumers based on income.

Last year, rate increases averaged 11 percent. In 2016, the rate rose by 4 percent and in 2015, it rose by 1 percent.

Customers can also expect fewer insurance providers to choose from going into 2018. King, Pierce and Snohomish counties each lost three providers and Kitsap County lost one.