Obamacare rate hikes rattle consumers, could threaten enrollment

Many of next year's premium rate increases on the Affordable Care Act exchanges threaten to surpass the high and wildly fluctuating rates that characterized the individual insurance market before the health law took effect, interviews with insurance regulators and records show, according to USA TODAY.

With dramatic drops in insurance company participation on the exchanges for some states, decreased competition and other factors are leading to often jarring rate hikes. Some of the states that are facing what are likely among the biggest increases this year — Tennessee, Arizona and North Carolina — were among those the Urban Institute reported in May had the biggest increases last year.

“The reality is, it’s all very justified, unfortunately,” Iowa insurance commissioner Nick Gerhart said Thursday of the premium increases he approved this week of 19% to 43% for about 70,000 Iowans who buy their own policies.

Gerhart warned consumers in a rate hearing in July that if he rejected insurers’ proposed premium increases for 2017, the carriers would likely decline to sell policies in the state. No carriers made an explicit threat to leave Iowa, but the implication was clear, he says: “It gives you less room to maneuver." Iowa law, he said, requires him to judge proposed premium increases on whether experts find them to be justified by carriers’ projected costs

As other state insurance commissioners gradually sign off on insurers' rate requests — which should all be decided within a month — many consumers are learning what's in store for 2017.

Issues with the exchanges consumed a "disproportionate amount of attention" at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' summer meeting, which ended Monday, said John Huff, the group's president.

The individual health insurance market is typically one of the smallest parts of commissioners' focus even with health insurance and they also have to deal with far more sweeping issues including property and casualty insurance and medical liability.

"Clearly, state and federal policymakers need to continue to work together (toward) a more stable risk pool, certainty on funding and more reasonable regulations," says Huff, who is also director of Missouri's insurance office. "Over six years after the law was passed, making substantive corrections to the law is past due and, consequently, the markets are suffering."


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