Regulators approve higher premiums to strengthen Obamacare insurers

State insurance regulators across the country have approved health care premium increases higher than those requested by insurers, despite a national effort to keep rates for policies sold on Affordable Care Act exchanges from skyrocketing, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

In eight states, regulators approved premiums that were a percentage point or more higher than carriers wanted, said Charles Gaba, a health data expert at ACASignups.net who analyzed the rates for USA TODAY. As of Tuesday, those states are Arizona, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota and Utah.

Rates in Florida are expected to rise 10 percent to 19 percent.

Pennsylvania regulators approved individual plan rate increases Monday of 33%, which is eight points higher than requested. Two insurers — Keystone Health Plan and Geisinger Quality Option — will also no longer offer plans on the ACA exchange for the state.

"These rate increases make it clear that Washington needs to move swiftly to address consumer needs under the Affordable Care Act," Pennsylvania insurance commissioner Teresa Miller said in a statement.

But Gaba doesn't think it's as bad as it appears.

“To consumers, this seems terrible like, ‘Oh, they’re price gouging us,’ ” Gaba said. “But part of regulators’ jobs is to keep insurance companies solvent so they can continue to give people insurance.”

Gaba's analysis of rates for the individual insurance market includes some of his own projections based on available data  It also weights the averages of different insurers' rate increases, based on their relative market share. The averages also assume that all of those now insured renew their existing policies and doesn't include new policies since there’s no earlier rates with which to compare those.

This market now covers about 18 million people who don't get their insurance through work, Medicare, Medicaid or the Department of Veterans Affairs. About half of these people get some subsidies to pay for insurance.

The Kaiser Family Foundation said Tuesday that more than 5 million people who are uninsured are eligible for tax credits to help pay their premiums.

This year may be the last for dramatic premium increases as insurers now understand their new markets better, say some supporters of the law, including the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

In fact, this year many insurance carriers have requested premium rate increases that are closer to what regulators think are appropriate, says Gaba.

“Ideally you want what’s requested to be what’s necessary,” he added. “And that was part of what happened.”

Insurer withdrawals from some markets and rate hikes of more than 50% in some areas prompted fears that some insurance marketplaces were at risk of collapsing.

Carriers that have raised premiums significantly include Blue Cross Blue Shield in New Mexico, which raised premiums by 83%, and Crystal Run Health Insurance in New York which raised premiums by about 80%.

But there are some insurers with premiums that had big drops, including Medical Health Insurance of Ohio, which cut them by about 17%.

Read more of the article here.


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