Originally Published: October 10, 2017 6 a.m.
PHOENIX — Filings with Arizona regulators show average individual health insurance premiums for about 95,000 Pima and Maricopa county residents will rise less than 2 percent next year, a move that will be a relief for people who saw huge premium increases this year.
The final rates are for people who buy Affordable Care Act-compliant plans sold by Centene Corp’s Ambetter by Health Net. The company in June anticipated a 5 percent boost in 2018.
The rates posted by the Arizona Department of Insurance show premiums dropping by 9 percent on some plans and the biggest increase at 3.6 percent. The average increase is 1.8 percent.
Health Net officials on Monday did not immediately respond to inquiries about the reasons for the smaller increases.
The move to increase rates by less than first planned mirrors those of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona , which is the only seller of policies in the 13 other Arizona counties.
Blue Cross is actually lowering rates by an average of 1 percent next year, citing improved profitability as one reason, along with an assumption that the federal government will continue funding a program reducing some customer costs. It initially planned a 7 percent increase. Health Net is assuming the payments end, according to an actuarial report prepared for the state Insurance Department.
Premiums statewide went up by 116 percent on average this year. Arizona had some of the lowest rates in the nation and robust competition from multiple insurers when the individual marketplaces launched for the 2014 coverage year. But insurers underpriced their plans and saw big losses, leading all but Blue Cross and Health Net to leave the state by this year and premiums to skyrocket.
Health Net offers individual policies in the state’s two largest counties that cover about two-thirds of the 140,000 people with marketplace policies statewide. Blue Cross insures the rest.
This year’s open enrollment period for health insurance has been shortened and will run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The Trump administration has also cut funding for “navigators” who help people sign up for plans sold on the healthcare.gov website and the advertising budget by about 90 percent nationwide.
Those moves have led the coalition of health groups that has worked for several years to encourage people to get coverage to team up with insurers to get the word out and help people find affordable plans.
“Both Ambetter and Blue Cross Blue Shield have really stepped up to help ensure that as many Arizonans as possible can get covered,” said Marcus Johnson, state health policy and advocacy director for Vitalyst Health Foundation. Vitalyst helps coordinate efforts by Cover Arizona, a coalition of groups working to increase health insurance coverage. “There’s definitely a feeling that we’re all in this together.”