Uncertainty drives health premiums higher

Pauline Gross
August 11, 2017

The number of carriers that filed to participate next year dropped to an average of less than five.

In 2015 the average was nearly seven carriers.

Kaiser also sought to quantify how much insurers were boosting rates to guard against the uncertainty fueled by the Trump administration.

The findings are based on insurer filings in almost two dozen major cities and they could change over the next few weeks.

However, the analysis finds that preliminary rates will likely change, and some insurers have included additional rate increases or said they may revise their requests, depending on potential resolution of outstanding questions in federal policy. Even Trump's own budget director admits that Trump's threats to discontinue cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments would hurt Americans. The payments are now the subject of a lawsuit filed by House Republicans that was appealed by the Obama administration, and if Trump drops the appeal the payments will stop.

"Other insurers state that if they do not get clarity by the time rates must be finalized - which is August 16 for the federal marketplace - they may either increase their premiums further or withdraw from the market", the study's authors wrote.

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The Trump administration continues to emphasize the weakness of the exchange markets for next year, but numerous problems that are causing that weakness, according to the insurers, are primarily of the administration's own making.

"Since Obamacare went into effect under the previous administration, skyrocketing healthcare costs and fewer choices have become the norm", said Alleigh Marré, national spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. Some insurers have factored it into their initial requests, with those assuming the individual mandate would not be enforced including an additional 1.2 to 20 percent increase, and those assuming cost-sharing subsidy payments would not continue applying additional increases ranging from 2 to 23 percent.

Requested premium increases for the benchmark silver plan, upon which premium subsidies are based, vary widely by city.

The highest: a 49 percent jump in Wilmington, Delaware. Both figures don't factor in tax credits, which shield many enrollees from steep rate hikes.

In 2018, a single adult who earns 30,000 per year is expected to pay about $200.00 per month for coverage.

For context, as Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation noted in Axios on Thursday, there are about 17.5 million people who purchase coverage through the non-group insurance market, 10.3 million of which are enrolled in ACA exchanges.

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