Illinois 'Obamacare' health insurance rates up significantly

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Higher prices and fewer choices on the Illinois marketplace under President Barack Obama's health insurance law will make choosing a plan for 2017 a potentially frustrating experience for families who buy their own coverage, according to information released Wednesday by the Illinois Department of Insurance.

Statewide, an average price increase of 43 percent is ahead for a popular type of middle-tier coverage used as a benchmark under the health law, the department said. The price of that benchmark plan — the second lowest cost Silver plan — will increase by as much as 71 percent in Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties.

Lack of choice is another problem. In eight counties, only one company — Blue Cross Blue Shield — will sell individual coverage for 2017. Major insurers such as Aetna and UnitedHealthcare have left the health law's marketplaces in Illinois and other states because of costs. In Illinois, the nonprofit Land of Lincoln Health is folding after suffering heavy losses.

Consumers will be able to shop around and possibly switch health plans for 2017 when enrollment begins Nov. 1. But many parts of the state will have fewer than 20 plans to choose from, the insurance department said.

The department cautioned consumers to look at provider networks as well as price when choosing a plan to make sure preferred doctors and hospitals are included.

In a statement, Gov. Bruce Rauner blamed the rate increases on failings of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

"It's very unfortunate that the major structural flaws in the Affordable Care Act are forcing higher rates and harming the Illinois families who need coverage the most," Rauner said. "It is clear that Congress must enact smarter policies that truly provide better choices for Illinois residents."

The Obama administration said that for the vast majority of consumers, subsidies will cushion the impact of premium increases. Many people buy individual policies outside of the health law's marketplaces, and they receive no subsidies. Illinois regulators are still reviewing rate requests for off-marketplace health plans.

The rates requested for plans will be made final in October at the federal level.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois spokeswoman Kristen Cunningham said Land of Lincoln's closure "underscores the need for all health care industry stakeholders — insurers, doctors, hospitals and regulators — to work together on solutions to ensure a stable and sustainable individual market for the long term."

"We're confident the 2017 individual rates we have filed are reasonable and actuarially justified, based on our experience in the market and projected costs next year," Cunningham said in an email. "In order to continue offering plans in 2017, we need to price our products for the anticipated health care needs for the entire market."

The eight counties where Blue Cross will be the only insurer on the marketplace are McHenry, Lake, Kendall, Grundy, Lawrence, Madison, St. Clair and Monroe.

Stephani Becker of Shriver National Center on Poverty Law said lack of competition in those counties is "definitely disappointing, but also much more common this year." A total of six insurers will sell policies in at least some parts of the state.

Information on provider networks, deductibles and other features of the health plans won't be available until later this year, possibly not until the marketplace opens Nov. 1.


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