By Tara Bannow

The Bulletin

Bend residents might have more than two health insurance carriers to choose from next year after all.

Currently, Health Net Health Plan of Oregon and PacificSource Health Plans have agreed to sell 2017 individual policies — those people buy for themselves or family members — in Deschutes County. State regulators announced Wednesday four other carriers have expressed interest in expanding the number of counties they sell those policies in.

Several Oregon health insurers, in response to a more-expensive-than-anticipated individual market population, have shrunk their coverage areas next year.

PacificSource, for example, is selling individual policies in only six counties in 2017, down from all 36 this year. Moda is also shrinking its coverage area from every county currently to 26 counties next year.

Unless more carriers enter the local market, Deschutes County is poised to have the fewest number of individual market carriers of any county in the state. Eleven counties, including Crook and Jefferson, are slated to have three carriers selling individual policies next year. Roughly 234,000 Oregonians have individual policies, about 5.8 percent of the state’s population. Most people with commercial insurance get coverage through employers.

Concerned about the lack of choices for residents in rural parts of the state, regulators have been encouraging carriers to expand their reach, said Patrick Allen, director of Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services, which regulates the state’s insurance market.

“We think we’ve gotten some success,” he said Wednesday.

So far, Providence Health Plan, BridgeSpan Health Co., Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon and ATRIO Health Plans have requested to change their coverage areas, Allen said. Nothing is official until the carriers submit formal filings to the Department of Consumer and Business Services by the end of the day today. On Monday, regulators will meet with the carriers to hash out final coverage areas and rates.

“I don’t want to guarantee that those (companies) are doing anything,” he said. “Until they file, I won’t have any idea exactly what they’re planning to do.”

Laura Cali, Oregon’s insurance commissioner, said it will be important to ensure carriers don’t have an unfair advantage by being allowed to set their monthly rates in certain counties after other carriers have already locked theirs in.

Rather than having carriers propose their own monthly prices, as is done during the rate review process earlier in the year, state regulators will present carriers with rates based off of those already approved for the areas they want to enter. In Deschutes County, Cali said, that rate will be similar to the ones the state approved for Regence and BridgeSpan before those carriers announced earlier this month they wouldn’t sell individual policies in the county next year. (Regence and BridgeSpan are affiliated companies; BridgeSpan sells on the exchange and Regence off.)

Before the companies withdrew, the state approved a 2017 rate of $414 for a 40-year-old Bend resident with a silver Regence policy. The same BridgeSpan policy would have cost $430. Health Net, which is selling in Bend, will charge $477 for that policy. PacificSource will charge $446.

As for the financial incentive to enter counties carriers had already decided not to sell in, Cali explained they feel more comfortable knowing they wouldn’t be alone. Now that several carriers have expressed interest, each one won’t shoulder a large proportion of the population.

“I think having the ability for there to be some other options I think has been helpful,” Cali said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0304,