Obamacare insurance to jump by double digits in Georgia next year

Georgians with health coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace will see their premiums jump by double-digits next year.

On Tuesday, the state insurance department approved a 21.4 percent increase for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Obamcare plans to be sold in 2017. Alliant, Ambetter (Peach State), Harken Health, Humana and Kaiser Permanente also all received the OK to increase the cost of their marketplace plans by double digits.

Blue Cross — the only insurer that sells marketplace plans statewide and has the largest marketshare — had initially requested a 15.1 percent premium hike. But it upped its request in the wake of Aetna’s pullout from marketplaces in Georgia and 10 other states last week.

State insurance officials said that Blue Cross was the only health insurer to request a new rate after Aetna’s move.

Insurers across the country have drastically cut their Obamacare offerings and some have pulled out of marketplaces altogether. The reason, they say, is hundreds of millions of dollars in losses incurred when enrollees turned out to be sicker and more expensive than initially anticipated.

Consumer advocates worry the loss of competition will lead to higher premium costs.

However, Georgians whose incomes don’t change much could see their subsidies, or discounts, on marketplace plans rise significantly, so the impact of higher rates may be softened, experts say.

The proposed rate hikes reflect, in part, the rise in general health care costs of 7 percent to 9 percent annually, caused by factors such as higher use of medical services and increases in inpatient care and pharmaceutical pricing, insurance experts say.

A Blue Cross spokeswoman, Debbie Diamond, said in a statement Tuesday that the company is sticking with the marketplace, also called an exchange, in Georgia.

“We are committed to the exchange in Georgia. As the only insurance carrier offering plans in all 159 Georgia counties, we wanted to continue offering quality, affordable plans for Georgians,” she said.

Blue Cross expects to pick up many of the estimated 70,000 to 90,000 Georgia Aetna members, who will have to pick new plans during the fall open enrollment. (Aetna had marketplace health plans across almost all of the state.)

In 2016, nearly 588,000 Georgians signed up for coverage in the insurance marketplace a 9 percent increase over the 2015 total.

Glenn Allen, spokesman for the insurance department, said Georgia passed along the premium requests to federal health officials Tuesday, the deadline for the state to do so.

While state approval is a factor, the federal Department of Health and Human Services has the final say on what premiums will be charged on the insurance marketplace.

Advocacy groups, including Georgians for a Healthy Future, say consumers should not simply assume their current policy is the correct option, but should shop around during open enrollment to find the plan that suits them best.

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