Georgia premium rate variation is worst in nation

Location, location, location.

It’s not only a priority for real estate. In Georgia’s health insurance exchange, geography makes a big difference in what an individual’s monthly premium will be.

Last week, Georgia Health News reported that the highest-cost region in the state, in southwest Georgia, had premiums for the cheapest “silver’’ plan that were double those in three other regions, including metro Atlanta.

Kaiser Health News has now reported that the premium variation in Georgia is the biggest within any state in the country.

The Kaiser article appears just before the Tuesday debut of states’ health insurance exchanges, where millions of Americans are expected to gain coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Kaiser Health News reported that a 40-year-old in rural southwest Georgia would pay $481 a month for a midlevel plan – more than double the cost of someone in the eastern portion of the state, where the premium is $238.

Just one insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, is offering coverage in two southwestern regions.

“Long a fact of life in the world of insurance brokers, rate variations within a single state have been thrown into sharp relief because for the first time, consumers can compare prices for comparable products by logging into the new online marketplaces,’’ Kaiser Health News reported.

A 42-year-old individual in the least expensive county in Georgia will pay $247 for the cheapest silver plan, while the same person in the most expensive county will pay $499, a 102 percent difference, KHN reported.

The state with the next biggest variation is Wisconsin, with an 82 percent difference.

The costs of care are high in southwest Georgia, Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, told Georgia Health News last week. The area has a large proportion of people with chronic disease, and in addition, there is a lack of competition among medical providers there, he said.

Two years ago, the region’s dominant hospital system, Phoebe Putney, purchased its only hospital competitor in Albany. The Federal Trade Commission challenged the deal in court, calling it anti-competitive. The case was settled several weeks ago, and Phoebe retained control of the former Palmyra Medical Center.

Blue Cross is the only health insurer offering coverage in every region of Georgia.