WASHINGTON — Health insurance companies around the country are seeking rate increases of 20 percent to 40 percent or more, saying their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected. Federal officials say they are determined to see that the requests are scaled back.Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans — market leaders in many states — are seeking rate increases that average 23 percent in Illinois, 25 percent in North Carolina, 31 percent in Oklahoma, 36 percent in Tennessee and 54 percent in Minnesota, according to documents posted online by the federal government and state insurance commissioners and interviews with insurance executives.
Large annual premium rate increases at this double digit level prompted the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 when it became clear the individual health insurance market segment had entered an unsustainable death spiral. Sharp premium hikes ensued because adverse selection trashed the insurers’ risk pools, making them actuarially unsustainable. The Affordable Care Act attempts to restore the pooling function by putting everyone into statewide risk pools and eliminating medical underwriting to bring more people into the pool.
What’s striking here is the Affordable Care Act anticipated those who lacked medical insurance before the law’s major individual health insurance market reforms took effect in 2014 might have poorer health status and use more medical services. Hence, it contains premium stabilization provisions designed to prevent the kinds of steep rate increases spotlighted in by The Times. That raises questions as to the effectiveness of these provisions.
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