Premium increases for 2018. Ouch.

My peek into the future

Health insurance companies in my state finally submitted their requests for 2018 rate hikes.

Usually I can look up this info online by mid-May, but all the partisan and intra-party bickering over the future of healthcare in this country has left insurance companies scratching their figurative heads over how to price next year’s policies.

I remember a time when I never gave my health insurance much thought. Like my car or home insurance, it didn’t change much year to year, and was simply there when I needed it.

But for the last ten years or so, I’ve dreaded peeking into the future to see what my health insurance plan will cost. Or if I will need to change my doctor—again. Or if my current plan will even exist next year.

Since Obamacare went live in 2014, I’ve changed my insurance company three times, my primary care doctor three times, and my premiums have almost tripled.

What’s in store for 2018?

Actually, for me it’s not too bad. My health insurance company was bought out last year by Kaiser Permanente, and I think it has a big enough share in the market that they were able to keep rate increases somewhat reasonable at 12.7%.

How sad is it that I think a 10%+ increase is reasonable!?

But it’s all relative.

The insurance company I had two years ago is asking for a rate hike of 27.7%. The insurance company I used for over 20 years prior to 2014 wants to increase rates by 30%—and it’s also eliminating policies in almost all the counties of this state.

Thousands of people are going to be losing their current plans.

Like in many other states, insurance companies are either pulling out of the individual market entirely, or only serving select counties.

In our state, at least one rural country will have no option for health insurance in 2018. I’m sure our insurance commissioner will beg and find a company willing to sell plans, most likely at a pretty steep price.

Who or what is to blame for the rate hikes?

Our insurance commissioner, a die-hard Democrat, is laying the blame pretty squarely on the shoulders of Republicans.

The lack of a united vision on the way forward is definitely part of the problem. President Trump has stated many times that he will not enforce the individual mandate, so healthy people might feel disinclined to buy over-priced, low-value health insurance policies. (I can’t blame them for that!)

The current administration also wants to end the Cost-Sharing Reductions (CSR) payments, basically billions of dollars in subsidies on top of the other subsidies so insurance companies will offer lower deductible and cost-sharing plans to those with incomes between 100% and 250% of federal poverty level.

However, there are plenty of other factors driving up the cost of health insurance.

I read the rate increase submissions from the insurance companies in my state. Over and over again they cite three main reasons they need to charge significantly higher premiums:

  1. People are just sicker with costly chronic health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.
  2. Health care costs are just higher in general;
  3. Prescription drug costs are skyrocketing.

As one insurance company states:

One area of sustained concern is continued high prescription drug cost trends. The increasing prevalence of specialty drugs in the market, new specialty drugs to be introduced, the extremely high cost of specialty prescriptions, and the lack of low cost substitutes for these drugs contribute to high anticipated prescription drug trends. In addition, the market is observing larger cost increases for lower cost drugs that also contribute to higher observed trends.

In other words, new drugs cost a fortune, and drug companies are jacking up the prices on older, used-to-be-affordable drugs.

I’m looking at you Mylen, and your outrageously priced EpiPen!

If you’ve read my blog over the last few years you know I have never been a fan of Obamacare. Why? Because it did nothing to decrease healthcare costs. It was all about expanding insurance coverage.

That’s not necessarily bad, but if you don’t lower costs first, then you get a lot more people using expensive healthcare and driving up costs.

Furthermore, to pay for the huge subsidies and expanded Medicaid, cuts were made to public health programs we desperately need to turn the tide on uber-expensive chronic diseases.

Other budget cuts were made to the National Institutes of Health, which provide unbiased research on medical treatments. Most research now is funded by those who profit off the drugs or equipment. Conflict of interest is rampant.

What’s a consumer to do?

Not much, unfortunately.

If you have an individual plan, a small group policy (under 50 employees), or buy a plan from an insurance exchange, you can go to your state’s insurance commission website and look for a link to requested rate hikes.

By law they have to allow consumers to publicly comment on the proposed rate hikes.

Every year I’m amazed how few people take the opportunity to say something for or against the premium increases. Last year there were only a dozen or so comments (all angry) about the rate hikes.

If a proposed premium increase affects you, take time to tell your insurance commissioner what you think!

Every state handles these requests differently. Some insurance commissioners have a lot of power to say yes or no to the hikes. In my state, however, the commissioner is pretty toothless. He thinks it’s a victory for the consumer if he can lower the proposed increase by 1%. So I know my premiums will go up pretty close to the requested amount.

However, insurance companies have until late August to set their 2018 policies in stone. Depending on what happens in DC, some companies might decide it’s just not worth losing more money and pull out altogether.

The health insurance market, especially for those of us buying individual plans, is still very unstable and unpredictable.

The only other thing we can do as consumers is contact our state lawmakers. Tell them how the high cost of insurance, prescriptions drugs or just health care in general impacts your family.

Tell them how shrinking provider networks undermine your access to care and your continuity of care.

Ask them to please set aside their party differences and all the negative, helping-no-one rhetoric and work together to not only solve some of the underlying problems that keep healthcare costs high, but envision a healthcare delivery system that works fairly and cost effectively for everyone, not just the rich or the subsidized poor.

Ten years ago I thought our healthcare system couldn’t be more broken. Boy, was I wrong!

But I hope in another ten years I can say that things are getting better. They can’t get worse, can they??

Sláinte,

Frugal Nurse

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