Obamacare insurance companies in Maryland are charging higher rates, though not as much as last year

Obamacare insurance companies in Maryland are charging higher rates, though not as much as last year

Health insurance prices could be higher in 2024 for Marylanders buying their own coverage, but the increase is expected to be smaller than last year, when costs related to the coronavirus pandemic prompted carriers to request hikes of tariffs by an average of 11%.

The average rate increase requested by carriers from state insurance regulators this year was 5.7%. All three carriers that offered policies on the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange or sold it directly to consumers under the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare in 2023 have filed plans for next year.

The Maryland Insurance Administration plans to hold a public hearing on the proposed rate changes in July and expects to issue decisions in September.

The administration, after analyzing the requests, typically grants fare increases that are lower than those requested by the carriers. Last year, regulators finally approved rate hikes averaging 6.6 percent more, lower than the 11 percent average required.

Rate change claims are lower than last year primarily because 2022 claims were lower than expected and there was a reduction in the expected trend for claims, the Maryland Insurance Administration said on Friday in a Press release.

The Maryland Insurance Administration also received a deposit from a fourth carrier, Aetna Health Inc., which will be offered to people who buy their own insurance in 2024. Premiums for the cheapest silver plan Aetna offers would be $328 a month for a 40-year-old who lives in Baltimore, the release said.

State insurance regulators celebrated Aetnas’ participation, which they say means that all Marylanders, regardless of where they live, will be able to choose from at least three carriers. This will provide additional competitive pressure to keep rate hikes low, insurance commissioner Kathleen Birrane said in the news release.

Aetna is the second carrier to re-enter the market from 2021, according to the release. Birrane attributed those decisions to the continued success of the state’s reinsurance program, which helps insurers pay their most expensive customers’ bills.

A program extension, originally approved for 2019-2023, is under review by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and is expected to be approved this summer, the insurance administration said in the release. If approved, the extension will run from 2024 to 2028. All carriers assumed in their plans that the program would continue to cover catastrophic claims, according to the release.

We are pleased to have another carrier selling into the individual market, Birrane said in the release. The state was down to two carriers before the state’s reinsurance program was implemented.

The three carriers in the market together have around 230,000 customers.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, which has 134,045 members, has requested an average rate increase of 6.4% for its HMO plan next year. This equates to an extra $4 per month for customers on the cheapest Silver plan, raising the monthly price from $335 to $339.

In an emailed statement, a CareFirst spokesperson said the insurer recognizes rising health care costs are a significant concern for everyone. While the state’s reinsurance program has been highly effective in stabilizing the insurance market, sustainable policy solutions that reduce the underlying cost of health care are still needed, the statement said.

These rate hikes are being driven by inflation and unsustainable increases in the cost of health care, as well as an increase in health care prices and utilization, the statement said. Higher care costs are here to stay and require aggressive action by both policy makers and payors; therefore, CareFirst looks forward to collaborating with policy makers on future initiatives to reduce the cost of care.

CareFirst has requested an average raise of 0.5% for its PPO plan, which covers approximately 17,000 people.

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Some people who buy insurance from the state market are eligible for federal subsidies that reduce the cost of monthly premiums.

Kaiser Permanente has asked for an 8% average rate hike for its HMO plan, which serves about 60,000 people. This would increase the monthly premiums for customers on a Silver plan from $18 to $286 per month.

United Healthcare, which covers 20,000 people in its HMO plan, has asked for a rate cut of about 2%, a change that would cut its Silver plan’s monthly premiums from $28 to $339.

The announced rate changes come as nearly 35,000 Marylanders are losing their Medicaid coverage due to eligibility issues or procedural reasons. Maryland is trying to figure out who still meets the requirements to maintain coverage after pandemic-era flexibilities expired in the public health emergency last month.

Those who lose their insurance have 120 days to request a status review. Anyone who does not re-enroll in the program will be sent information on how to enroll for a policy through the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange or, if they are 65 or older, how to enroll in Medicare.

Small business health insurance providers who together cover about 373,000 people have asked for an average rate increase of 7.5%.

Kaiser Permanente and United Healthcare did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

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