This year, Washington will become the first state in the nation to offer a public option for healthcare, but the deadline is fast approaching – this coming Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Open enrollment on the Washington State healthcare exchange for a wide range of plans, including the new Cascade Care public option plans, began on Nov. 1.

“Our top priority was to establish plans that provide patients more and better care for their money,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines). “People should be able get the care they need without worrying about whether they can afford it up front. That keeps our whole state healthier.”

In 2019, the Legislature passed a bill creating Cascade Care, the first public option for health insurance in the country, which will begin providing coverage in 2021. These plans are offered on Washington state’s healthcare exchange, which was created as part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and first opened in 2013.

In the first week of open enrollment this year, more than 182,000 Washingtonians signed up for 2021 coverage on Washington state’s healthcare exchange. Among the 2,400 customers who have signed up for coverage for the first time this year, 30% have selected new Cascade Care plans.

Cascade Care plans are required to cover more services before customers need to meet the deductible, including primary care visits, mental health services, and generic drugs.

Cascade Care is also intended to bring down costs for health insurance down across the board. By competing with other plans, Cascade Care pushes other providers to offer better plans, lower deductibles, and lower rates. Cascade Care plans offer deductibles that are on average $1,000 less than other plans. And the average rate across all plans on the exchange in 2021 will be 2.4% less than in 2020.

Washington’s individual healthcare marketplace remains vibrant. In King County, customers can choose among nearly 70 plans offered by 8 different insurance carriers.

People who are on low incomes or who have lost their employer-provided coverage may qualify for subsidies to lower their premiums. Those whose income has decreased because they have lost jobs or have come to the end of unemployment benefits may qualify for federal subsides under the Affordable Care Act. The amount of the subsidy is determined during the process of signing up on the exchange.

Those whose income is below 138% of the federal poverty level (about $3,000 per month for a family of four), or who meet other criteria, may qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Washington’s Apple Care program. More about eligibility for Apple Care is available here.

More information about purchasing individual health insurance is available from Washington Healthplanfinder, including through in-person enrollment centers, virtual video or phone assistance (1-855-923-4633; TTY: 855-627-9604), the WAPlanfinder Mobile App, and

For coverage starting Jan. 1, 2021, the deadline to enroll is Dec. 15; and for coverage starting Feb. 1, the deadline is Jan. 15, 2021.