HELENA — How many Montanans whose individual health insurance policies are being canceled because of “Obamacare” will end up paying more for a new policy next year?

That number is hard to come by — but most observers of the Montana insurance market and the federal health reform law believe it’s small, both in raw numbers and compared to the overall market.

State Auditor Monica Lindeen, whose office regulates insurance in Montana, says about 54,000 Montanans were covered by individual health policies at the end of 2011 — the most recent available figure. Her office also estimates that at least 38,000 of those people have received or will get letters from insurers saying their current policy does not comply with federal guidelines.

That means they must buy a new policy sometime in 2014.

If all individual policyholders in Montana must get new policies, that’s slightly more than 5 percent of the population in Montana.

However, that number could change, as the effects of Obamacare on insurance markets unfold in coming months.

If people buying on the individual market earn 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $11,500 to $46,000 for a single person — they may be eligible for a subsidy to offset the cost of that new policy.

Families USA, a national consumer group that’s a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), released a study last week estimating that 6,500 Montanans covered by individual policies earn more than 400 percent of the poverty level, or 0.65 percent of the population.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said it’s possible that many of those people may end up paying higher premiums for new policies, but that “this concern has been blown seriously out of perspective.”

Jerry Dworak, CEO of the Montana Health Co-op, a company selling policies on Montana’s online marketplace, said people with consistently good health have been able to get reasonable prices on the individual market up to now.

Now that insurers can’t screen out people with poor health, those who’ve enjoyed the lower prices — and who don’t qualify for a subsidy — may end up paying more for their coverage, he said. That group is a small segment of the population in Montana, he said.

Dworak said he believes the vast majority of Montanans shopping on the individual market will be able to get good, affordable policies, including the offset from subsidies.

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