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Marketplace Morning Report

Alabama ends up with a single health-exchange insurer

Gigi Douban Aug 23, 2016
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A rate hike from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama could affect about 160,000 people. Carl Court/Getty Images

Alabama ends up with a single health-exchange insurer

Gigi Douban Aug 23, 2016
A rate hike from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama could affect about 160,000 people. Carl Court/Getty Images
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People who buy individual health plans through the federal exchange in Alabama might soon see a big premium jump, anywhere from 26 to 41 percent over last year. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, soon to be the state’s only health insurance provider, has proposed the rate hike to take effect in 2017. 

The same is true in other states, and those increases are projected to be steeper than in previous years, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama will soon be the only health insurer offering coverage under the Affordable Care Act in that state, and Blue Cross is asking for big rate increases.

The increases in Alabama could affect about 160,000 people. Among them is Brian Cauble, who does marketing for a small realty firm. The company doesn’t offer health benefits, so he’s had to buy his own. And it has never been cheap. Last year, he bought a gold plan for him and his son. That cost him about $500 a month. 

“And then this year, they had gone up so much that I actually jumped to a silver plan with higher deductibles,” he said. 

Cauble’s insurance company, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, now wants to increase premiums an average of 39 percent on individual plans. 

“For me, that’s about $200 more a month,” Cauble said. “So, I mean, I can’t really go down much more.” 

People in cities like Nashville and Baltimore will also see double-digit premium increases next year. Cynthia Cox, associate director of health reform and private insurance at Kaiser Family Foundation, said many health insurance companies are finding the premiums they initially set aren’t covering costs. 

“Insurance companies had very little information to work with,” she said, “and it seems that some guessed right, some guessed wrong.” 

But even as many premiums across the country have stayed flat or went up a little bit, Cox said this year premiums are rising much faster than the past few years. 

Alabama’s would be one of the biggest increases in the country. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama didn’t agree to an interview, but emailed a statement that said many of its new members are “less healthy than we expected and are using a high volume of expensive medical services.” 

The Alabama Department of Insurance is reviewing feedback from consumers through the fall. Mark Fowler, the department’s chief of staff, said the regulatory agency probably won’t flat out reject the rate increase.  

“We may wind up working with the insurers and make some adjustments in rates and plans,” he said.  

Fowler said one goal is to protect consumers. Another is to make sure the health insurance companies stay solvent. And as of next year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield will be the only option in Alabama.

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