2015 health-insurance policies on Obamacare exchanges won’t increase much

2014-08-27T11:30:00Z 2014-08-27T23:58:37Z 2015 health-insurance policies on Obamacare exchanges won’t increase muchBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
August 27, 2014 11:30 am  • 

HELENA — Prices for 2015 health insurance policies sold on Montana’s federal online “marketplace” will increase only 1.35 percent, on average, state Auditor Monica Lindeen said Wednesday.

But when policy prices are examined individually, the changes for 2015 are all over the map, ranging from declines of 7 percent to increases as much as 14 percent, or more, in some cases.

A spokesman for health insurers selling on Montana’s marketplace said this week that shoppers should examine each policy closely — and consider available federal subsidies — before deciding which policy is the best deal. The 2015 policies don’t go on sale until Nov. 15.

“The face value of the premium isn’t everything; there’s a lot more that goes into the total cost of health care,” said John Doran, director of public relations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana. “It’s really important for the Montana consumers to look at all of those costs, as well as what subsidies they may be eligible for.”

He said consumers should consider what a policy covers, its deductibles and copayments, and the company’s provider network.

Still, Lindeen said it’s encouraging to see the Montana rates, on average, come in lower than national increases, which she said are averaging 8.5 percent for polices sold on the online marketplace.

“We’ve been accustomed to double-digit increases, so these figures are a real step in the right direction,” she said in a statement.

The online marketplace is a key piece of the 2010 federal health care overhaul, known informally as “Obamacare.”

The federal government is running Montana’s marketplace, which last October began offering policies sold by three companies: Blue Cross, PacificSource and the new Montana Health Co-op.

This year, a fourth company — Assurant — will offer policies on the exchange.

Its rates were not part of Lindeen’s analysis.

Lindeen hired an actuary to analyze the 2015 rates. He concluded that, on average, rates for all policies increased 1.35 percent. Rates for more expensive policies increased more, while rates for less-expensive policies declined, on average.

However, when individual policies are examined, the rate changes are dramatically different, depending on the product and company.

For example, rates for a PacificSource low-cost “bronze” and high-cost “gold” plan dropped 7 percent, while the cost of a popular mid-level “silver” plan increased 5 percent.

The price of bronze plans for Blue Cross dropped or increased only slightly, while prices for some of its silver and gold plans went up anywhere from 9 percent to 14 percent.

Individuals can shop for and buy policies on the marketplace and get federal subsidies to offset the cost, if they qualify. Some, but not all, consumers earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $46,700 for a single person — may be eligible for a subsidy.

In Montana, about 37,000 people are insured by 2014 policies bought on the marketplace within the last year.

Companies had to submit 2015 rates to Lindeen’s office for review this spring. Lindeen’s office released the rates on Wednesday.

Todd Lovshin, Montana vice president for PacificSource, said the 2015 prices are based on much of the same data used to price 2014 policies, because the companies don’t have that much new information on 2014 claims.

He said his company is pleased that it’s been able to reduce some rates and keep them relatively stable.

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