Big insurance rate hikes in the future?

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 26, 2014 at 9:34 am •  Published: May 26, 2014
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The wild hikes in health insurance rates that blindsided many Americans in recent years may become less frequent because of the health care overhaul.

Final rates for 2015 won't be out for months, but early filings from insurers suggest price increases of 10 percent or more. That may sound like a lot, but rates have risen as much as 20 or 30 percent in recent years.

The rates that emerge over the next few months for 2015 will carry considerable political weight, since they will come out before Republicans and Democrats settle their fight for Congressional control in next fall's midterm elections. Republicans are vowing to make failures of the law a main theme of their election push, and abnormally high premiums might bolster their argument.

In addition to insuring millions of uninsured people, the other great promise of the massive health care overhaul was to tame the rate hikes that had become commonplace in the market for individual insurance coverage.

No one expects price increases to go away, but some nonpartisan industry watchers say they do expect the big hikes to hit less frequently in the years to come, even though it's still early in the law's implementation. They point to competition and greater scrutiny fostered by the law as key factors.

Public insurance exchanges that debuted last fall and were created by the law make it easier for customers to compare prices. The overhaul also prevents insurers from rejecting customers because of their health.

That means someone who develops a health condition like high blood pressure isn't stuck in the same plan year after year because other insurers won't take her. She can now shop around.

The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization, said in a recent report that competition will help restrain individual insurance prices next year.

And it could have a lasting impact once the new markets for coverage stabilize in a few years, said Larry Levitt, an insurance expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, which analyzes health policy issues.

"Now if a plan tries to raise premiums a lot, people can vote with their feet and move to another plan," Levitt said.

Greater scrutiny by regulators could also keep rates from skyrocketing. The overhaul requires a mandatory review of rate increases larger than 10 percent, which can lead to public attention that insurers don't want.

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