Obamacare Insurers Seek Big Rate Hikes

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Millions of Americans who buy their own health insurance may see monthly premiums rise 20 to 40 percent in 2016, if many insurers get their way.

Insurance companies say they need a boost because many of their new customers who bought health plans under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, turned out to be sicker than expected.

Federal officials say they are determined to see that rate-increase requests filed with state regulators are scaled back, The New York Times reported.

Oregon is the first state to announce final decisions on 2016 health insurance premiums for 220,000 people not covered by employer plans or government programs. OregonLive.com reported that many rates are going up, but not as high as all insurance companies requested. The least expensive silver plan premium for a 40-year-old will be $271 per month in 2016, up $49 per month from 2015’s lowest rate.

The silver plans are the basis for federal premium subsidies and are the plans that most marketplace enrollees (68 percent) have chosen, says Kaiser Family Foundation, which analyzed proposed rate changes in 11 cities for 2016. Kaiser says it expects most plans’ prices will change modestly, but the increases will be larger than in 2015. Shopping may allow people to find cheaper plans if they are willing to switch insurers, which may also mean they might have to switch doctors.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans — market leaders in many states, the Times says — seek rate increases averaging 23 percent in Illinois, 25 percent in North Carolina, 31 percent in Oklahoma, 36 percent in Tennessee and 54 percent in Minnesota.

Insurers say they need the increases to cover costs for previously uninsured customers who needed care, the high cost of specialty drugs, and the Obama administration’s 2013 decision to allow some people to keep insurance that did not meet new federal standards, the Times said.

Under the ACA’s rate review provision, premium increases of more than 10 percent are made public to improve insurer accountability and transparency. You can look up your insurer on the HealthCare.gov Rate Review pages to see if proposed rate increases are “based on reasonable cost assumptions and solid evidence.”

Federal subsidies could soften the impact of rate increases, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, told the Times. About 85 percent of the 10.2 million people who obtained health coverage through federal and state exchanges in 2015 receive subsidies to help pay premiums.

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