Insurance Premiums Could Rise
Sebelius: Some Could See Insurance Premiums Rise
Some people purchasing new insurance policies for themselves this fall could see premiums rise because of requirements in the health-care law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters Tuesday.
Ms. Sebelius’s remarks come weeks before insurers are expected to begin releasing rates for plans that start on Jan. 1, 2014, when key provisions of the health law kick in. Premiums have been a sensitive subject for the Obama administration, which is counting on elements in the health law designed to increase competition among insurers to keep rates in check. The administration has pointed to subsidies that will be available for many lower-income Americans to help them with the cost of coverage.
The secretary’s remarks are among the first direct statements from federal officials that people who have skimpy health plans right now could face higher premiums for plans that are more generous. She noted that the law requires plans to provide better benefits and treat all customers equally regardless of their medical claims.
“These folks will be moving into a really fully insured product for the first time, and so there may be a higher cost associated with getting into that market,” she said. “But we feel pretty strongly that with subsidies available to a lot of that population that they are really going to see much better benefit for the money that they’re spending.”
Ms. Sebelius added that those customers currently pay more for their health care if their plans have high out-of-pocket costs, high deductibles or exclude particular types of coverage, such as mental health treatment. She also said that some men and younger customers could see their rates increase while women and older customers could see their rates drop because the law restricts insurers’ ability to set rates based on age and gender.
Most people who buy their own insurance policies will begin doing so this fall through new online marketplaces, which federal officials believe will force insurers to keep their prices down.
“As a former insurance commissioner I have watched what transparency does to a market,” Ms. Sebelius said. “This is the first time ever in the history of the United States that insurance companies have to file their rates, it has to be very transparent, they have to offer the same kind of coverage without 5,000 tiny little lines and internal caps, and they have to compete for customers. And I am a believer in the market strategies that in and of itself will minimize the rate impact.”
As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, some insurers have already begun signaling they could dramatically increase prices for people buying policies in the individual market to compensate for restrictions on how they treat consumers, as well as new fees and requirements that they provide bigger benefits packages.
The Society of Actuaries, a nonpartisan professional association, has issued a new report warning that the cost of medical claims in the new individual-insurance market could rise by an average of 32% per person over the first few years the law is in place, as more people with higher medical needs get coverage, and that the impact will be very different depending on the state. Medical bills are another key factor in determining premiums.