1. Health

As Obamacare stabilizes, 2019 rate hikes for Floridians will be small compared to past years

Enrollment in Obamacare has stabilized nationally at about 10 million people, including this group of consumers who gathered at an Obamacare kiosk in Miami. After two years of stiff premium hikes, many insurers are making money again, a factor that will keep premium hikes down for 2019. [New York Times]
Published Aug. 30, 2018

FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida insurers selling health insurance under the Affordable Care Act requested the lowest premium hikes since the law's inception, despite numerous obstacles from the Trump administration and major rate increases last year.

The state's largest insurer, Florida Blue, which is offering plans in all 67 counties and is the sole provider in several mostly rural counties, requested a meager increase of less than half a percent. The nine insurers offering so-called Obamacare plans in the Sunshine State next year requested to raise their rates by an average of about 5 percent, according to figures released this week by Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation. That compares to an average increase of 45 percent last year.

TO YOUR HEALTH: Keep track of trends and new developments that affect you. Visit the Times health page.

Premiums are significant as critics often point to them as a sign that the law isn't working and is on the verge of collapse. The figures also come one year after several major insurers around the country pulled out of the market amid dismal profits and growing uncertainty under the Trump administration.

But enrollment has stabilized nationally at about 10 million people and after two years of stiff premium hikes, many insurers are making money again. There seems to be little risk of insurers fleeing in 2019 as some did in the past.

Florida once again led enrollment in the federal exchange, with 1.7 million consumers selecting a plan last season, according to the federal government. The vast majority received funds to help pay for their insurance.

Experts say several other states including North Carolina are also reporting shockingly low rate hikes for 2019. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois also requested lower rates.

"The previous year insurers had these huge rate increases and … they probably overpriced last year because they were worried the (Trump administration) wasn't going to force the individual mandate," said John Holahan, an economist with the Urban Institute. "They figured a lot of people weren't going to sign up for coverage … and it really didn't happen because enrollment didn't fall off that badly."

So in hopes of staying competitive when enrollment begins in November, Florida and insurers in several other states had meager increases and even decreases in some cases.

A Florida Blue spokesman, Paul Kluding, said the insurer lowered rates from its original proposal earlier this year "given our dedication to providing affordable health care for all Floridians."

Trump and congressional Republicans have been unable to deliver on their promise to "repeal and replace" the 2010 health care law.

But Trump, who has repeatedly branded the program a "disaster," has steadily cut funding for navigators who counsel people about various plans and help them enroll. Federal health officials also slashed money for open-enrollment advertising around the country by 90 percent overall, calling it wasteful spending, and the budget for TV ads went from $26.6 million in the Obama administration's final year to zero under Trump.

Trump and Congress also repealed the tax penalty for people going uninsured, starting next year, which could entice some healthy people to go without coverage.


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