`Obamacare’ individual policies may see moderate or no increases for 2019

Posted at 4:57 PM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-28 18:57:22-04

Health insurers selling individual policies on the “Obamacare” marketplace in Montana are proposing only modest increases for 2019, on average – or, no increase at all.

State Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale released the proposed rates Thursday, with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana proposing an average increase of zero – and a 4.9 percent decline for small-group policies.

The other two companies selling policies on the online marketplace, PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-op, proposed average increases of 6.2 percent and 10.6 percent for individual policies, respectively, and lesser increases for small-group policies.

The rates won’t be made final until August, after a review by Rosendale’s office and public-comment period – but Rosendale has no power to order any changes in the rates, unless they’re deemed discriminatory.

The proposed increases also don’t necessarily reflect the comparative full cost of the policies, when contrasting similar products sold by the three companies.

About 54,000 Montanans have individual health-insurance policies now, and the vast majority of them are receiving federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) to offset the cost of the premiums.

Subsidies are available for most consumers who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or almost $65,000 a year for a couple.

The Montana Health Co-op insures the most individuals, with 23,300 Montana customers, surpassing Blue Cross this year. Blue Cross has about 18,500 customers and PacificSource about 12,700.

While the proposed rate changes are lower than in previous years, Rosendale still called the Affordable Care Act “a disaster for many Montana families.”

“We need to repeal it and create our own Montana health-care solution instead of relying on an unaffordable, one-size-fits-all program from Washington, D.C.,” he said in a statement.

Rosendale, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, said he has worked as insurance commissioner to support more health-insurance options than the policies required by the ACA.

Blue Cross spokesman John Doran said affordability of health care “remains an issue,” but that the company is “proud that we intend to hold flat or reduce our rates” next year.

“While there are a lot of variables in the market that must be considered, and uncertainty in how the market will evolve, we are doing everything we can to make it as affordable as possible for our members,” he said.