More price hikes likely for government insurance markets

Early moves by insurers suggest that another round of price hikes and limited choices will greet insurance shoppers around the country when they start searching for next year’s coverage on the public markets established by the Affordable Care Act.

 

Insurance companies are still making decisions about whether to offer coverage for individuals next year on these markets, and price increase requests are only just starting to be revealed by state regulators. But in recent weeks big insurers like Aetna and Humana have been dropping out of markets or saying that they aren’t ready to commit. And regulators in Virginia and Maryland have reported early price hike requests ranging from just under 10 percent to more than 50 percent.

Increases like that will probably will be seen in other states, too, as insurers set prices to account for uncertain support from a federal government led by a new president who wants to scrap and replace the law, said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown Health Policy Institute. “For the consumer, they’re going to see big rate hikes,” Corlette said.

Prices for this type of insurance is already are being affected by evaporating competition.

With the latest departures, more than 40 percent of U.S. counties would have only one insurer selling coverage on their marketplaces for next year, according to data compiled by The Associated Press and the consulting firm Avalere. That assumes no other insurers leave and none step in by the time customers start shopping for coverage in the fall.

These state-based marketplaces, known as exchanges, were established by the Affordable Care Act as a place for customers to compare prices and buy coverage, often with help from income-based tax credits. They provided coverage for about 12 million people this year.

The median coverage price this year for one typical plan was about 67 percent higher in marketplaces with one insurer compared to those that had six or more, according to a study by the nonprofit Urban Institute. Those plans are used as a benchmark to calculate the tax credits that help people buy coverage.

Customers won’t know for several more months what their options are for next year.

Aetna drops last 2 markets under Affordable Care Act

Aetna said late Wednesday that it won’t sell individual coverage next year in its two remaining states — Nebraska and Delaware — after projecting a $200 million loss this year. It had already dropped Iowa and Virginia for next year. The insurer once sold the coverage in 15 states, but slashed that to four after losing about $450 million in 2016.

The government-backed marketplaces are a pillar of the Obama-era federal law because they allow millions of people to buy health insurance with help from income-based tax credits. But insurers like Humana, and now Aetna, have been fleeing that market, and the remaining coverage options are growing thin. Other companies like the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem say they are wary of returning without a guarantee that the government will provide cost-sharing subsidies that reduce expenses like co-payments. Those are separate from the tax credits that help pay premiums.

The White House has assured lawmakers it will continue paying the subsidies, but it has offered no long-term guarantee.

About 12 million people bought coverage for this year on the exchanges, and every market had at least one insurer offering coverage. But a growing number were down to one.

–Associated Press

 

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