March 19, 2014, 06:00 am
By Elise Viebeck
Health industry officials say ObamaCare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration.
The expected rate hikes will be announced in the coming months amid an intense election year, when control of the Senate is up for grabs. The sticker shock would likely bolster the GOP’s prospects in November and hamper ObamaCare insurance enrollment efforts in 2015.
The industry complaints come less than a week after Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to downplay concerns about rising premiums in the healthcare sector. She told lawmakers rates would increase in 2015 but grow more slowly than in the past.
“The increases are far less significant than what they were prior to the Affordable Care Act,” the secretary said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Her comment baffled insurance officials, who said it runs counter to the industry’s consensus about next year.
“It’s pretty shortsighted because I think everybody knows that the way the exchange has rolled out … is going to lead to higher costs,” said one senior insurance executive who requested anonymity.
The insurance official, who hails from a populous swing state, said his company expects to triple its rates next year on the ObamaCare exchange.
The hikes are expected to vary substantially by region, state and carrier.
Areas of the country with older, sicker or smaller populations are likely to be hit hardest, while others might not see substantial increases at all.
Several major companies have been bullish on the healthcare law as a growth opportunity. With investors, especially, the firms downplay the consequences of more older, sicker enrollees in the risk pool.
Much will depend on how firms are coping with the healthcare law’s raft of new fees and regulatory restrictions, according to another industry official.
Some insurers initially underpriced their policies to begin with, expecting to raise rates in the second year.
Others, especially in larger states, will continue to hold rates low in order to remain competitive.
After this story was published, the administration pointed to some independent analyses that have cast doubt on whether the current mix of enrollees will lead to premium hikes.
ObamaCare also includes several programs designed to ease the transition and stave off premium increases. Reinsurance, for example, will send payments to insurers to help shoulder the cost of covering sick patients.
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