Premiums could edge up an average of 5 percent for Indiana’s Obamacare plans

Hoosiers seeking health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace will have just two choices of insurers next year and could pay an average increase of 5.1 percent in premiums.

The Indiana Department of Insurance on Thursday posted submissions on its web site, showing that CareSource Indiana Inc. and Celtic Insurance Co. (also known as Managed Health Services) had submitted proposals for individual plans next year. They also were the only two insurers to submit proposals last year.

CareSource is seeking an average rate increase of 10.2 percent, for an average monthly premium of $540.15. Celtic, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Centene Corp., is seeking an average rate decrease of 0.5 percent, for an average monthly premium of $479.

While the average increase sought across the two firms is 5.1 percent, the premiums for specific plans could actually go much higher. CareSource, for example, is requesting a maximum increase of 33.6 percent for one of its gold-level plans. One of its bronze-level plans would be 7.7 percent less.

The state has not approved the rate requests yet, so the changes could be more or less than requested. Prices won’t be set until this fall for next year’s coverage.

The proposed raises in premiums are much less than last year, when insurers received approval to increase rates between 20 percent and 36 percent.

The state insurance department said it expects that all 92 counties would be covered by one or both insurance companies. CareSource plans to cover 79 counties. Celtic plans to increase its coverage from 43 counties this year to all 92 counties next year.

Last year, two major insurers, Anthem Inc. and MDwise Marketplace, dropped out of the Indiana exchanges, citing growing uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act. Together, they represented about 77,000 members.

The year before, two other insures—Physicians Health Plan of Northern Indiana and IU Health Plans—dropped out of the marketplace, citing similar concerns. Insurers have said they are worried about the future of the exchanges, which generally make up a small slice of their business but have generated steep losses.

The ACA, passed under President Obama, has been praised by Democrats for increasing access to health care, but attacked by Republicans for raising the cost of care and upsetting the health care system. Last year, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans tried unsuccessfully three times to repeal or severely scale back the program, also known as Obamacare.

In recent months, Republicans have continued to chip away at the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration cut the health program’s advertising budget by 90 percent during the 2018 open enrollment period and reduced funding for health care navigators who help people sign up for insurance.

In a move taking effect next year, Congress has repealed the law's requirement that most people carry health insurance or risk fines. Some observers say this will cause some healthy people to go without coverage, which would likely raise premiums for others.

Protect Our Care, a national advocacy group that is trying to prevent the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, said Thursday that prices would likely  continue to rise as long as long the program’s opponents tried to dismantle it.

“For the past year and a half, President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have engaged in a deliberate, aggressive campaign to undermine health care, and now families in Indiana are being asked to pay the price,” said Brad Woodhouse, the organization’s national campaign director. “Until we stop Washington Republicans’ attacks on health care, experts predict that rates will keep rising by double digits. Washington Republicans should start working on bipartisan solutions to make coverage more affordable.”

Earlier this month, the Justice Department said that it would no longer defend key parts of law, including provisions that guarantee access for people with medical problems and limit what insurers can charge older, sicker adults. The insurance industry warns that millions of Americans would be harmed if such protections are struck down, causing premiums to go even higher.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 30 percent of Hoosiers under the age of 65 have pre-existing conditions that could leave them with no coverage or higher rates.

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