Feds Downplay Fears Over Cost, Choice On Obamacare Exchange

FILE – In this April 5, 2009 file photo, the Department of Health and Human Services building is seen in Washington. Really? The Supreme Court’s big health care decision means 30 million or more uninsured Americans are soon going to have coverage? It’s far from that simple. The ruling points a way forward for millions … Continued

Alex Brandon, File / Associated Press

Federal health officials are downplaying concerns of higher costs and less choice on the Obamacare insurance exchanges next year, including in Georgia.

A report from the U.S. Department Health and Human Services released Wednesday said even if all premiums increase in Georgia by 50 percent next year, around 79 percent of consumers would still pay $75 or less each month for coverage.

Mandy Cohen, COO and chief of staff for HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said tax credits will shield the majority of people from big rate increases sought by insurers next year.

“What this report today is highlighting is that financial assistance does protect consumers even in the case of one-time upward pressures on rates,” Cohen said.

Cohen also encouraged people to shop around for plans as a means of keeping costs down. But the nearly 588,000 Georgians who enrolled in plans through the exchange last year, particularly those in rural parts of the state, likely won’t have that option come open enrollment this fall after recent insurer exits.

UnitedHealthcare, which this year offered plans in all 159 counties, announced in April it was pulling out of the marketplace. Earlier this month, Aetna also said it was leaving the exchanges in Georgia and 10 other states. The move came after the Department of Justice sued to block Aetna’s merger with Cigna, another insurer pulling its plans from Georgia next year.

While Humana is staying in Georgia, the company is drastically reducing its footprint on the exchange, downsizing from 98 counties to just a handful.

Blue Cross Blue Shield will be the only insurer offering plans statewide in 2017.

State insurance officials this week approved Blue Cross’ revised request to raise its rates by an average 21 percent. The company previously sought a 15 percent average increase, but upped its request after Aetna announced plans to leave Georgia’s marketplace.

Among other companies planning to offer plans on Georgia’s exchange next year, rate increase requests range from around 14 percent to more than 65 percent.

Next year’s rates are not final, though, until HHS reviews them.