An early, encouraging glimpse of 2015 rates

At least three health insurers plan to offer insurance statewide in Georgia’s exchange for 2015.

This year, only one health plan – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia – went statewide in the exchange.

And the proposed Blue Cross rates for next year’s exchange will decrease by an average of 7 percent.

Healthcare Cost

Those were among the immediate highlights of data on proposed premiums, released by Georgia’s department of insurance, from the health plans seeking to participate in the state’s exchange next year.

A total of nine insurers are seeking to offer exchange plans in 2015. That’s up from five insurers for the current year.

The 2014 insurance exchange featured stark variability in rates between metro Atlanta, where multiple plan choices were offered, and southwest Georgia, where only a single insurer offered plans. The southwest Georgia region had some of the highest exchange premiums in the country this year.

“It looks to me that the market is becoming more competitive,’’ Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said Wednesday. “This is what you would expect to see in the second year of this.”

While there are hopeful signs about Georgia’s exchange rates, there was less positive news this week on some other aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

Reports from the Health and Human Services inspector general said that many of the 8 million Americans who have signed up under the new health care law will now have to clear up questions about their personal information, and that could affect their coverage.

A government watchdog group said Tuesday the Obama administration faces a huge task resolving these problems.

And the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that two family-owned corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, do not have to cover certain types of birth control on their employee health insurance plans as otherwise required under the “contraceptive mandate” provision of the ACA. (These two firms cite religious principles as central to their identities, and the court noted that the ruling does not apply to most companies.)

U.S. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who’s running for the U.S. Senate, said the ruling “is yet another reason why Obamacare should be repealed – it is unworkable. I am glad the court recognized private companies should not be forced to violate their religious convictions.”

Yet others see the increased insurance competition in Georgia as a sign that the law is succeeding, despite its problems.

Cindy Zeldin
Cindy Zeldin

“I’m not seeing rate shock or huge increases,’’ said Cindy Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future, an organization that supports the ACA. Health insurers, she said, “see a market and a demand for health care. Consumers will have more choices.”

The insurance department released data for eight of the nine applicants this week. Glenn Allen, spokesman for Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, said UnitedHealthcare had an incomplete application.

Three other new insurers – Coventry, Time Insurance and Cigna – are seeking to join the five holdovers from this year’s exchange that are also submitting rates for review: Alliant Health Plans, Blue Cross, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, and Peach State Health Plans.

Graham Thompson, executive director of the Georgia Association of Health Plans, said, “More carriers equals more choice for Georgia consumers.”

The holdover groups’ rates as a whole appear to contain modest increases. Humana proposes an increase of 9 percent, but that company’s premiums this year were the lowest in the state exchange, Georgia State’s Custer said.

Coventry will go statewide with what appear to be “very competitive rates,’’ he said. Blue Cross and Time Insurance Co. are also proposing rates across all Georgia regions.

And southwest Georgia, which trailed only Colorado ski resort towns with the highest 2014 premiums, will appear to get at least one option that’s less expensive.

Blue Cross, the sole insurer there, says in its actuarial memo for 2015 that its proposed rate cuts will vary by plan, from 14.6 percent to 3.1 percent.

Aside from the better-known individual exchange, where people buy coverage for themselves, there is the small-business exchange, known as SHOP, which is currently for employers with small workforces.

At least three insurers – Blue Cross, Kaiser and Alliant — have offered to sell health plans in the small business exchange for 2015, the insurance department data show.

Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future said she is interested in finding out whether the insurers’ networks of medical providers are adequate for consumers.

She also said she hoped that Georgia’s rate approval process would allow input from consumers.