Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia’s premiums on the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange will increase by an average of 21.4% in 2017, according to a proposal accepted by the office of Insurance Commisioner Ralph Hudgens. The decision awaits final confirmation by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which has the ultimate authority to approve rate hikes on state insurance exchanges.
The hefty price increase was revised upward from 15.1% after Aetna, one of the nation’s five largest insurers, announced it was pulling out of 11 state insurance exchanges, including Georgia’s. Aetna will operate in just four states’ exchanges, following similiar pull-outs from insurance giants United Healthcare and Humana. Aetna lost 300 million pretax dollars servicing state exchanges last year.
This leaves Blue Cross and Blue Shield, already known for its fearsome political power, as the only company to offer health exchange plans in each of Georgia’s 159 counties. With the departure of Aetna from Georgia’s health exchange, BCBS is expected to gain major market share from the 70,000-90,000 Aetna members who will need to find new insurance.
Analysis from Avalare, a health insurance consulting company, finds that 36% of American counties will have one or zero exchange options in 2017. This sharp decline in competition is focused in rural places like South Georgia, where hospitals are already strained to the breaking point. In Alabama, Blue Cross and Blue Shield will be the only exchange carrier in each county, while Pinal County, Arizona, made news as the first county with no health exchange carriers.
In large part, the costs stem from fewer new enrollees than originally estimated. While the Congressional Budget Office expected 21 million customers on state health exchanges in 2016, only 10 million had registered as of March. Those 10 million health exchange members tend to have higher healthcare costs than the average population, overwhelming the narrow healthcare networks sold on the exchanges.
Other health exchange carriers have been approved to raise average health exchange premiums in 2017, including a 67.5% jump from Humana. All approved premium hikes can be found here.
The burgeoning crisis will be a focal point of politics in 2017, but are likely to aid opposite political forces on the state and federal level. Expect Congressional Republicans to renew calls to reform Obamacare, while General Assembly Democrats are likely to advocate louder for Medicaid expansion. As always in health care politics, if you like your talking points, you can keep your talking points.