Health insurers plan major premium hikes

Friday, September 2, 2016

MANKATO — Minnesotans in the market for individual health insurance this fall should expect significant premium hikes.

Seven insurers submitted their proposed individual and small group rates for 2017 Thursday. As expected, the rates greatly increased from last year — between 36 and 66 percent for most policies.

The hikes will affect about 5 percent of Minnesotans shopping for insurance on the individual market. People insured through their employers, Medicare and other government programs won’t feel as big or any effect.

The question going into Thursday was more about how big the hikes would be versus whether there’d be hikes at all. Major upheavals in states’ health care markets, including the departure of insurance companies such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield from Minnesota, led many to believe the rates would increase substantially this year.

The loss of Blue Cross — which pulled one of its popular plans out after losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years — could be felt even more in southern Minnesota. Lisa Bach, benefits service adviser for the North Risk Partners C.O. Brown Division insurance agency in Mankato, said Blue Cross had a big imprint in the region.

After the departure was announced, she’s heard concern from many clients who know they’ll need to find another plan by the end of the year — Blue Cross does still offer a more limited plan.

“Last year (the concern) was substantial with the large increases with the carriers,” she said. “This is a little more substantial with the complete going away of the Blue Cross BlueAccess plan.”

About 100,000 Blue Cross customers who had that plan are expected to be on the hunt for new plans this fall. Depending on where they live, they might not have many options for a replacement plan.

Bach said Blue Cross/Blue Shield was popular at her agency because it had wide coverage. Plans from PreferredOne and HealthPartners, for example, don’t have much of a network near Mankato. Both announced increases between 63 and 50 percent.

A Medica plan could be similar to Blue Cross, but like its insurer counterparts, it proposed substantial rate increases — 59 percent on average. 

Thursday’s proposed rates really only give an idea of how high the rates could go. Being preliminary, they’re subject to change by Sept. 30 if the Department of Commerce deems the increases to be unjustified. The agency will take public comments regarding the increases at healthinsurance.ratecomments@state.mn.us.

In a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton said the “drastic” premium increases were cause for concern.

“I am alarmed by the drastic increases in health insurance rates for Minnesotans in the individual market, which are also occurring in many other states under the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

He said federal tax credits are available to help offset the hikes.

The tax credits are available to people who qualify once they sign up for insurance through MNsure, the state’s health care exchange. The subsidies available through the Affordable Care Act can rise just as much as the premiums will, said MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole while doing outreach at Farmfest in early August — self-employed farmers are prime examples of those who'd need to buy individual health plans.

“It’s counterintuitive, but when rates increase, the value of tax credits do as well,” she said. “It’s important for people to shop around.”

She said the one-third of people who were insured on the individual market through Blue Cross should contact MNsure for help navigating through the market.

“When a plan exits, it always adds to some consumer confusion, and we’re really the answer for them,” she said.

Insurance agencies also help clients sign up for plans through MNsure or directly with the insurer. Before the rates are set, though, the industry is in a bit of a wait-and-see mode, Bach said.

“As agents we don’t have any information on what the plans are going to be,” she said. “We keep a close eye on that, and we’ll be holding meetings for current clients to go over what their options are.”

To check your health plan's proposed rate for 2017, go to https://ratereview.healthcare.gov/#search.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared in the Mankato Free Press. To view the original article, please click here

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