The first glimpse of what health-insurance companies plan to charge for individual major medical plans next year suggests there’s no relief ahead for consumers saddled with high premiums.
Several insurers in Maryland and Virginia are seeking double-digit percentage increases in monthly costs for individual medical plans in 2019. The largest increases are being sought by CareFirst, which wants to nearly double the amount it charges on average for one coverage option in Maryland, and raise the cost of another in Virginia by 64%.
Virginia and Maryland are the first states where 2019 rate requests have been made public. Increases are anticipated across the U.S. as insurers continue to grapple with the aftermath of last year’s battle to overturn key parts of the Affordable Care Act.
Many health plans have stopped selling health coverage through the exchanges created four years ago under the ACA. The Republican-led attempt to change the health law last year caused premiums to surge, as insurers expected that undoing the law’s requirement that all Americans have health insurance would leave them with a smaller and sicker pool of clients.
The repeal effort ultimately failed, but the Trump administration overturned the penalty for going without insurance, and opened the door for insurers to sell cheaper, skimpier plans.
The rate requests must be approved by regulators and may change. Health plans will file requests in other states between now and late July. Final premiums will have to be approved ahead of the open-enrollment period beginning Nov. 1.
Seeking a Fix
In Maryland, CareFirst wants to raise rates by 91% on a plan covering 15,000 people, Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. said. If approved, premiums for a 40-year-old could reach $1,334 a month.
“We have folks in Maryland that are struggling, that are trying to do the right thing, and they’re paying more for their health insurance than they are for their mortgage,” Redmer said on a call with reporters.
Maryland is seeking permission from the federal government to create a reinsurance program that would use $975 million in state and federal funds over five years to lower rates. That would help only temporarily, Redmer said.
“I believe we’ve been in a death spiral for a year or two,” he said. A permanent solution requires Congress to fix the Affordable Care Act, he said.
Virginia’s insurance market is struggling. In Charlottesville and some neighboring counties, ACA policies are the most expensive in the nation for people who don’t get government subsidies. The cost of a mid-level plan for a single 40-year-old is $1,048 a month.
Most buyers on the ACA exchanges receive subsidies that insulate them from premium increases. For those who don’t, the price of health insurance is increasingly out of reach. Bloomberg News has been chronicling the stories of the uninsured in a year-long project.