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Significant premium hikes expected under Obama health law

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, the HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington. Expect insurers to seek significant premium increases under President Barack Obama's health care law, in a wave of state-level requests rippling across the country ahead of the political conventions this summer. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE – In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, the HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington. Expect insurers to seek significant premium increases under President Barack Obama’s health care law, in a wave of state-level requests rippling across the country ahead of the political conventions this summer. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON — Expect insurers to seek significant premium increases under President Obama’s health care law, in a wave of state-level requests rippling across the country ahead of the political conventions this summer.

Insurers say the law’s coverage has been a financial drain for many of them, and they’re setting the stage for 2017 hikes that in some cases could reach well into the double digits.

For example in Virginia, a state that reports early, nine insurers returning to the HealthCare.gov marketplace are seeking average premium increases that range from 9.4 percent to 37.1 percent. Those initial estimates filed with the state may change.

In New Mexico, the four insurers offering coverage through the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange have until Saturday to file preliminary rate proposals with the state for 2017, said Lisa Reid, director of the life and health division of the New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance. In an email, she said there will be a period in June to allow revisions to rates by the carriers.

She didn’t disclose whether any of the insurers — Presbyterian Health Plan, New Mexico Health Connections, Christus Health Plan or Molina Healthcare of New Mexico — had already filed rate proposals and whether they are seeking increases.

Molina was the most popular choice among the 55,000 people in the state who bought private health insurance this year through the state’s health exchange.

About 37 percent of those who enrolled for 2016 coverage signed up with Molina, while 35 percent went with New Mexico Health Connections, according to a spokeswoman for the state exchange.

Presbyterian and Christus rounded out the rest of the insurance shoppers, with 21 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

All the insurers no doubt saw gains with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico’s decision to withdraw its individual insurance products from the exchange this year. Blue Cross pulled out because state insurance regulators wouldn’t grant a rate increase of 51.6 percent it said it needed to meet costs.

The health law’s insurance markets offer subsidized private plans, with more than 12 million customers enrolled nationwide. Going into their fourth year, they don’t yet seem to have achieved stability. That’s a contrast with more-established government programs like Medicaid and Medicare Advantage, in which private insurers profitably cover tens of millions of people.

The health law’s nagging problems seem to center on lower-than-hoped-for enrollment, sicker-than-expected customers and a balky internal stabilization system that didn’t deliver as advertised and was already scheduled to be pared back next year.

This year, premiums for a benchmark silver plan rose by a little more than 7 percent on average, according to administration figures. Sharp increases for 2017 would fire up the long-running political debate over the divisive law, which persists despite two Supreme Court decisions upholding Obama’s signature program, and the president’s veto of a Republican repeal bill.

 

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