Thursday, September 20, 2018

Maryland Individual Health Insurance Plans Poised for First Rate Reduction

Maryland individuals who purchase health insurance through the state's five-year-old Affordable Care Act exchange are poised to see the first decrease in their premium costs in 2019.

Following federal approval of a program that aims to stabilize the ACA-born insurance market, Kaiser Permanente and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield are seeking price decreases for their individual market plans. The drop follows four consecutive years of double-digit percentage hikes. Consumer advocacy groups present at a public hearing on Monday lauded insurance officials' efforts around lowering prices, and said the decreases will be a welcome relief for residents who do not qualify for employer-based coverage and must purchase plans through the state's exchange.

The effort was initiated by a piece of bipartisan legislation passed in the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year. Maryland will put hundreds of millions of dollars behind a reinsurance program, which will allow the state's lone two carriers in the individual market to see major cost savings and stave off the need to again increase premium prices in 2019.

The Maryland Insurance Administration said during the hearing it is still finalizing details with the insurers, and plans to release the final 2019 rates later this week. Pending any major adjustments, the rates will look close to this:

CareFirst's individual HMO members will see about a 22.3 percent premium decrease, and a $104 monthly price decrease compared to 2018 rates.

Kaiser's individual HMO members will see about a 6.3 percent premium decrease, about a $23 per month swing from 2018.

CareFirst's individual PPO members — they are generally the sickest and most costly members in the market overall — will see about a 17.7 percent premium increase, which would result in an average price increase of about $121 per month compared to last year's rates.

Prior to the approval of Maryland's reinsurance plan, requested 2019 rates ranged between 18 percent to more than 90 percent increases. Now, insurers are seeking an average 13.9 decrease overall.

Peter Berry, chief actuary at CareFirst, the state's dominant health insurer, said he's scanned through the company's rate trends for the past 20 years. If the decrease is cleared, he said it would mark this first time in that period that some CareFirst members would see a year-over-year decrease in premiums.

"For the first time since I’ve been looking at health insurance since 1985, I’m speechless in a very good way," said Beth Sammis, president of advocacy group Consumer Health First. "This is a good day for consumers."

Sammis said next, industry officials need to put their efforts behind making sure that Maryland individual consumers understand their new options, and actually purchase these plans for the coming year.

Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer said part of the goal of the reinsurance program is to lure consumers who have opted to go without insurance the last few years due to unaffordability back to the market. The more people who pay into in a given insurance risk pool, the greater the price stability for everyone in the pool.

In an excerpt by Morgan Eichensehr  – Reporter, Baltimore Business Journal
Sep 17, 2018, 2:53pm