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Florida insurers seek rate increases for Obamacare plans

Nickolas St. Cyr, 26, of Tampa, applies for a health insurance plan on the Obamacare marketplace during this year's open enrollment period. Insurance companies are now requesting rate increases for the 2017 Florida plans. [Will Vragovic/Times]
Nickolas St. Cyr, 26, of Tampa, applies for a health insurance plan on the Obamacare marketplace during this year's open enrollment period. Insurance companies are now requesting rate increases for the 2017 Florida plans. [Will Vragovic/Times]
Published May 26, 2016

Associated Press

Nearly a dozen health insurers are proposing rate increases averaging 13 percent for 2017 Florida plans sold on the exchanges created under President Barack Obama's health care law, but that won't necessarily mean big consumer price hikes.

The largest increase is a whopping 44 percent requested by one Humana plan. Aetna wants a 29 percent increase for a plan, with AvMed requesting 26 percent and Coventry seeking 17 percent. Florida Health Care Plan requested modest increases for many of its products with most around only 2 percent, according to data released by federal health officials Wednesday. However, those figures only apply to specific plans in certain regions. Some may have only have 50 enrollees and are not representative of what consumers will actually pay.

Still the numbers will likely be seized on by critics of so-called Obamacare. Proposed rate increases are a hot topic every year, with detractors of the Affordable Care Act using the figures as proof the law isn't working. But rates have risen as much as 20 or 30 percent in recent years — even before the health law took effect. And federal health officials say it's important for consumers to understand that if premiums increase, their tax credits will also increase proportionately. Premiums and subsidies vary widely by factors including age, income, gender and zip code.

Florida Blue, the state's largest insurer, requested a statewide average increase of 14 percent, compared to the 9 percent hike it won last year.

Some of last year's highest proposed rate hikes were 21 and 31 percent from some insurers, but the Obama administration said consumers didn't see much of a difference.

"Last year, the average monthly premium for people with Marketplace coverage getting tax credits increased just $2, from $82 to $84 per month, despite headlines suggesting big rate increases," said Jonathan Gold, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Florida also has the ability to negotiate lower rates with insurance companies, a power state officials exercised for the first time last year to help drive down rates. And even though United is leaving the Florida market, Cigna and Harken Health are joining the state, meaning consumers will have 11 options to choose from.

The online federal marketplace makes it easier for consumers to shop around and compare prices. Last year, 38 percent of returning consumers in Florida switched plans, saving an average of $408 annually, according to federal health officials.

But even if the increases don't necessarily mean Florida residents will have to shovel out significantly more money, it is a signal that insurers are still searching for stability. The overhaul has been a financial drain for many companies entering their fourth year of the law.

Florida Blue, like many other insurers, is struggling with the costs of a sicker than anticipated population. Aetna lost more than $100 million on its health law business last year but hopes to break even this year. Insurers typically make their money balancing the risk pool with healthy people to offset the cost of caring for the sick.

But Paul Kluding, a spokesman for Florida Blue, said Wednesday that the newly enrolled consumers have higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease than people who already had insurance and those consumers are using a lot more services, including hospital, ER and doctor visits and prescriptions.

Insurance companies frequently cite rising medical costs, especially the spike in prescription drugs, as another hurdle.

Floridians have led the country in enrollment under the health law, with more than 1.7 million signing up for coverage. Ninety-one percent of those consumers receive tax credits.

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