ACA premiums rise as insurers finalize their plans

Every county in the region will officially have a single insurer through the Affordable Care Act marketplace now that a Wednesday deadline for insurers to finalize their plans has passed.

But while the deadline expired without the realization of earlier concerns that some counties might not have any Affordable Care Act providers, premiums for the individual plans are set to skyrocket next year. Under the two individual plans that will cover people in the City of Winchester and Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties, people who receive unsubsidized care through the Affordable Care Act will pay an average of over $150 per month more than they currently pay for health insurance.

In 2017, Shenandoah County had 1,928 people enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Warren County had 1,589 enrollees, Frederick County had 3,703 enrollees and Winchester had 1,124 enrollees.

Premiums under Anthem’s individual plan, which will cover people in Winchester and Frederick and Shenandoah counties, are set to increase by an average of more than 56 percent, according to their current rate filing. Cigna, which covers Warren County, is set to increase its individual plan premiums by around 51 percent.

That equates to an average cost of $502 per month for a Cigna individual plan and $663 per month for an Anthem plan, up from $347 and $413, respectively.

The substantial premium increases come as no surprise to Rick Mayes, co-chair of the University of Richmond’s Healthcare Studies Program. But Mayes said that the extent of the increase, which averages 58 percent across the state, is staggering.

“It’s better than not offering anything and having a county be completely devoid of an insurer, but at the end of the day, those people that buy those policies will get increased subsidies, and that means the taxpayer – we will be paying the bulk of that 58 percent increase,” Mayes said.

The majority of people who are insured through the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplaces receive some form of subsidies to reduce their health care costs. According to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, around 80 percent of the people in Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties and the City of Winchester receive tax credits that pay for part of their premium costs.

Those people will not feel much of the effect of these rate increases; the federal government, primarily, will be paying for their increased health insurance costs.

The people who will largely feel the impact of the increases, Mayes said, are those whose incomes are just higher than the cutoff point for the tax credits.

“They’re going to be howling financial pain,” Mayes said. “And that’s not a small group of people. [It’s] 3, 4, 5 million people. And they’re the ones who have actually been negatively impacted by the Affordable Care Act.”

The premium increases, Mayes said, could also lower enrollment numbers, even for people who are eligible to receive subsidies.

“[People will] have some sticker shock when open enrollment begins on Nov. 1,” Mayes said. “Some people may not realize that they have subsidies to help them. And they might just panic and be paralyzed in purchasing. That can happen.”