N.C. regulators ‘OK’ health insurance rate increase

N.C. regulators ‘OK’ health insurance rate increase
November 12
00:00 2015

In above photo: homepage image (File Photo)

RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina consumers who buy their own health insurance are facing major price increases next year.

The state Insurance Department said it’s approved rates covering about 610,000 people that will be one-third to one-fifth higher in 2016. The three-month open enrollment period for 2016 is open and closes on Dec. 15.

The insurance regulator says Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina was approved for an average 32.5 percent rate increase. Aetna is approved for an average 24 percent increase, while United HealthCare can raise premiums by an average 20 percent.

The three companies are the only insurers to sell plans on a federally run online insurance marketplace for subsidized policies.

North Carolina’s increases are among the highest for the 37 states that rely on the website, according to government figures.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s insurance website is faster and easier to use, but as a third sign-up season gets underway, President Barack Obama’s health care law is approaching limits.

Enrollment on the federal and state exchanges began Sunday, Nov. 1. While the law’s expanded coverage has reduced the uninsured rate to a historic low of about 9 percent, the gains will be harder in 2016.

Supporters may feel they’re running to stay in place, rather than taking a victory lap during the president’s last full year in office.

The reasons have to do with the structure of the complicated law, the effects of a major change introduced by the Supreme Court and political divisions likely to be magnified in an election year.

The fate of the Affordable Care Act – known as “Obamacare” to its detractors – is very much in the hands of the next president. A weak sign-up season could embolden opponents who are so far unwilling to relent.

The law’s two major engines of coverage expansion face challenges simultaneously.

Costs are going up on the private, taxpayer-subsidized coverage sold through and state insurance exchanges, and many of the more than 10 million eligible uninsured Americans are skeptics. They tend to be younger people on tight budgets, with other priorities for spending their money.

A sharp increase in fines may sway at least some fence-sitters. In 2016, the penalty will rise to $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income, whichever is higher. This year, the fine is the greater of $325 or 2 percent of income.

On the law’s Medicaid expansion, the other big mechanism driving coverage, the limitations are clearer and perhaps more consequential.

The 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld the law’s individual coverage requirement also gave states the choice to decline expanding Medicaid. Across the South, Republican-led states, including North Carolina, have turned down the Medicaid option, leaving millions uninsured.

Many are trapped in what’s called the “Medicaid gap.” They cannot get health insurance through because the law prevents people below the poverty line from using the insurance exchanges. So the private insurance alternative is closed to them, even as their states refuse to expand public coverage.

If five southern states – North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana – were to expand Medicaid, that could potentially add another 2 million people to the coverage rolls.

It would amount to a seismic shift, one unlikely in a political year when partisan divisions will be accentuated.

Consumers have until Jan. 31 to sign up for coverage. If they want their coverage to start at the first of the year, they need to apply by Dec. 15.

Carla K. Johnson reported from Chicago. Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writer Emily Schmall in Dallas contributed to this report.

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