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Here’s what the Obamacare limbo in D.C. is doing to your insurance rates

Idaho insurance rates are set to increase double digits in 2018.
Idaho insurance rates are set to increase double digits in 2018. Akron Beacon Journal

Health insurers that sell plans on Idaho’s exchange want to raise their rates an average of 38 percent next year.

The Idaho Department of Insurance announced the proposed rate increases Monday.

Four companies sell plans on Idaho’s exchange — giving Idahoans a larger selection than in other parts of the country but one fewer company than last year.

People who get insurance through the exchange can get income-based subsidies to cover a portion of their premiums. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, also requires those insurers to meet coverage requirements, which makes it easier to compare them. About 100,000 people bought insurance through the exchange this year, and most of those customers receive subsidies.

“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated to share these rates,” said Dean Cameron, director of the department. “I understand how difficult it will be for Idahoans to afford reasonable coverage, especially those without a subsidy.”

Mountain Health COOP is seeking the lowest overall rate increase for next year, 25 percent.

SelectHealth is seeking the highest overall increase, 48 percent.

Regence BlueShield of Idaho wants to increase rates by 51 percent for its individual insurance plans, but it will not sell subsidized plans on the exchange. Its sister company, BridgeSpan, is not listed among companies that filed rates for 2018 plans.

“BridgeSpan and the Idaho Department of Insurance are continuing discussions about BridgeSpan’s 2018 individual market filings,” said BridgeSpan parent company spokesman Lou Riepl.

Proposed 2018 rate increases for exchange plans

Bronze

Silver

Gold

Overall average

Statewide

21%

50%

18%

38%

Insurance company

Blue Cross of Idaho

6%

40%

12%

28%

Mountain Health COOP

8%

29%

25%

25%

PacificSource

8%

81%

44%

44%

SelectHealth

27%

69%

48%

48%

The insurance companies want to raise rates 50 percent on average for “silver” tier plans — the most popular health plans sold on the exchange.

The department says that severe rate hike is partly because the federal government has threatened to defund a mechanism that subsidizes out-of-pocket costs on that tier for people near the poverty line.

“I call on Congress to either repeal the [cost-sharing subsidy] requirement or fund the program,” Cameron said. “That action alone would reduce the proposed increase by at least 20 percent on the silver plans.”

[Read more: 6 easy ways Congress can fix Obamacare, and 1 harder choice.]

There’s one piece of good news about the silver-tier increases, though — at least for people who have subsidized plans. Those subsidies are based on the cost of silver plans. So, if silver-tier premiums rise significantly, that means Idahoans could actually pay less for their health insurance.

And that’s not the only irony, Cameron said.

“Ironically, Congress may spend more of our federal tax dollars” in premium subsidies because of its threat to defund the cost-share subsidies, Cameron said.

Insurance companies have the next couple of months to negotiate with the department, to avoid having their rate increases deemed “unreasonable.” The department can’t reject or set insurance rates, but it can review the insurance companies’ requests and their justifications for double-digit increases.

Final rates will be published in mid-September or early October, the department said.

After the preliminary rate hikes came out Monday, Lt. Gov. Brad Little — a candidate for governor in 2018 — called on “Idaho leaders [to] work on behalf of our citizens to relieve these burdens which continue to be a strain on our household budgets and diminish our state’s economic competitiveness.”

Two of four insurers came out ahead in premiums

Nationwide, health insurance companies are starting to turn profits on the exchange plans. They had been losing money due to the unexpectedly high medical costs of new customers.

Last year, two of the 2018 Idaho exchange insurers took in more premiums than they spent on those plans. However, Cameron noted that they did not turn a profit after fees and expenses.

Insurance company

Premiums 2016

Paid claims 2016

Blue Cross of Idaho

$258.1 million

$254.4 million

Mountain Health COOP

$50.8 million

$55.8 million

PacificSource

$6.3 million

$5.5 million

SelectHealth

$145.9 million

$208.2 million

Cameron has called for reforms to the law. Now, he’s asking for consumer feedback. (You can send comments by email to ratecomments@doi.idaho.gov.)

“The individual insurance market is not on a sustainable path,” he wrote in an Idaho Statesman guest opinion earlier this year. “I have seen evidence that with the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, insurance premiums will be significantly lower in Idaho on very good products and Idahoans will have more choices to buy plans that better fit them.”

He offered some ideas for reform Monday, along with estimated reduction in premiums:

▪  Fund or repeal the cost-sharing subsidy (20 percent)

▪  Fund high-risk pools (10 percent to 20 percent)

▪  “Allow true consumer choice of plans, similar to the Cruz amendment, either on- or off-exchange.” (20 percent to 50 percent cheaper than exchange plans)

Correction: Regence BlueShield of Idaho will sell individual health insurance plans only off the exchange, instead of replacing sister company BridgeSpan. No insurers turned a profit on exchange plans, according to the Idaho Department of Insurance.

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @audreydutton

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