Georgia requests emergency delay on health exchange

ATLANTA — Georgia might not start its Affordable Care Act health exchange Oct. 1 when the rest of the country does after issuing an emergency request late Monday for a delay.

State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for an additional 30 days beyond Wednesday’s deadline to approve the health plans submitted by seven insurance companies wanting to do business in the state.

Hudgens said some rates were 198 percent higher than current plans available in the state.

“Georgia consumers cannot afford these massive rate increases,” Hudgens wrote in his letter to Sebelius.

In an interview with Morris News Service on Tuesday, the commissioner said he received the reports Monday of outside actuaries hired to review the premiums requested by seven insurance companies wanting to offer individual health plans through the state’s exchange. Those actuaries concluded that six sought justifiable premiums and the seventh was 11 percent above what was necessary to comply with the requirements of the federal health reform law otherwise known as Obamacare.

He said Georgia’s “file and use” law for health insurance empowers him to deny only premiums that are excessive. With the report of the actuaries in hand, he has no grounds to find them excessive unless Sebelius gives them to him.

If he denies any of the companies, they have only until the close of business Wednesday to submit revised premiums for his approval. Otherwise, they cannot participate in the health exchange until next year.

A challenge for insurance companies, industry insiders say, is that no one has issued a policy with the requirements of the federal law, so they don’t know how many claims will be made. Normally, insurers base premiums on the number of claims and their costs.

Hudgens raised these concerns from the start.

“President Obama promised Americans that Obamacare would lower rates, but here in Georgia insurance companies are demanding massive rate increases up to 198 percent for some individuals,” he said.

Sebelius had not responded to his request, which was faxed to her office about 3 p.m. Monday and delivered by FedEx at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to Hudgens’ staff.

A request for a comment from her office was also not immediately answered.

The highest-ranking member of the Georgia Senate, President Pro Tempore David Shafer, R-Duluth, issued a statement in support of Hudgens even before the commissioner’s news release.

“Notwithstanding the president’s many assurances to the contrary, I have always suspected that Obamacare would lead to higher health insurance rates,” Shafer said. “But the rate increases pending before the Georgia Insurance Department are absolutely staggering in magnitude.”

Earlier in the morning, Hudgens held a hearing on the required training and licensing of “navigators” who will advise people on which plan to select from the online exchange. Several industry witnesses posed questions about the courses and penalties for unlicensed navigators, and Hudgens’ most frequent response was that no one knows.

“There’s just tons of unanswered questions,” he said afterward.

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