When Washington’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee signed the nation’s first public health insurance option into law in 2019, he claimed it’d ensure that “all Washingtonians have high-quality health-care insurance, an option they can afford that is available across the state.”
Three years in, it hasn’t. Advocates for a public option would do well to take note—and refrain from replicating the policy elsewhere.
Washington’s public option is administered by private insurance companies. It debuted on the state’s individual exchanges in 2021 with two types of publicly-funded plans: “Cascade Care” and “Cascade Select.”
Cascade Care plans have standardized benefits, with an emphasis on lower deductibles and offering access to care before the deductible is met. Every insurer offering a plan on Washington’s exchanges must also offer a Cascade Care plan. Because the plans have standardized benefits, state officials argue that it’s easy for consumers to compare Cascade Care plans from different insurers.