Dozens of health insurers say higher-than-expected care costs and other expenses blindsided them this year, and they're going to have to hike premiums for individual policies well beyond 10 percent for 2016.
The proposed double-digit hikes would apply to plans sold on the health insurance exchanges created under President Barack Obama's law, as well as individual coverage sold through brokers and agents.
Insurers point to costs from customers they gained under the health care overhaul's coverage expansion and the rising expense of prescription drugs among other reasons for their planned increases, according to preliminary rate information released Monday on the federal government's HealthCare.gov website.
BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina is seeking a roughly 26 percent premium increase, while plans in Florida and Illinois, among other states, are asking for hikes of 20 percent or more.
Individual health insurance policies are a relatively small slice of the overall market. Many more people are insured through an employer. And it is not clear whether any of these preliminary rate hikes will stick.
Regulators in many states have the power to reject price increases, and many who don't are expected to at least pressure insurers to soften their plans. Health insurance price hikes have been the subject of growing scrutiny for years.
Health insurance experts say it's tough to draw broad conclusions about prices from the requests released Monday. The health care law requires insurers to report only proposed hikes of 10 percent or more. That's only a partial picture of the market that tilts toward a worst-case scenario.
"It's hard to generalize, but that said, I think all signs are pointing to bigger premium increases than in 2015," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, a clearinghouse for information on the health care system.
Consumers should start learning how rates may change for their specific plan by early October.
That will give them several weeks to shop for the best deal before Nov. 15, which is when people can start signing up for coverage.