TVW Update

Inside Olympia – Health Care and Unemployment

October 28, 2021

This week on Inside Olympia, host Austin Jenkins sits down virtually with the heads of state agencies that deal with issues that are always important — but have become even more so during the COVID pandemic: health care and unemployment.

Pam MacEwan is chief executive officer of the WA Health Benefit Exchange, which offers health insurance plans to Washingtonians who buy their insurance on the individual market. The exchange always has an open enrollment period when people can research and sign up for plans. This year’s open enrollment kicks off Nov. 1, and MacEwan says health insurance shoppers will find a variety of plans with minimal to no premium increases since last year.

COVID, combined with the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), resulted in a special open enrollment period earlier this year in which more than 50,000 new people bought health insurance from the exchange.

MacEwan discusses the public-option plans — essentially state government created and funded plans — now available on the exchange.

Employment Security Commissioner Cami Feek talks about the unique circumstances stemming from the COVID pandemic, which she says have resulted in many workers reassessing their job options — and a resulting difficulty in employers finding workers. The current state unemployment rate of under 5% is back to pre-pandemic levels, but may not be catching people who are not making unemployment claims, but are not yet back in the workforce.

The state’s unemployment insurance fund was given a cash infusion from the 2021 Legislature and that, coupled with a relatively robust recovery in the state economy, means lower UI rate increases for employers than were first feared when COVID hit.

Watch the entire conversation on this week’s Inside Olympia.

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