Aug. 01--Californians will pay an average 4.2 percent more for their health care premiums in the next enrollment period compared with last year, state officials announced Thursday.
Calling the increase modest and hailing it as a victory in negotiations, Covered California's executive director Peter Lee said the cost of health care in the Golden State will remain affordable for most and that tax subsidies for those who qualify will remain the same, except in regions where premiums decreased.
The rates announced for the 2014-2015 enrollment period are tentative, however, and still subject to review by regulators.
"This is a big day, good news for California and good news for the Affordable Care Act," Lee said during a teleconference from Sacramento. "It means that the Affordable Care Act is working. We have changed the trends of health care costs. We have made health care coverage more affordable."
Lee was referring to the negotiations between Covered California, the state's health plan exchange, and the 10 health insurance companies that agreed to take part. The coming enrollment period begins in October for those who want to renew plans and once again feature the medal -- platinum, gold, silver, bronze -- tiers and offers from Anthem Blue Cross of California, Blue Shield of California, Chinese Community Health Plan, Health Net, Kaiser Permanente, L.A. Care Health Plan, Molina Healthcare, Sharp Health Plan, Valley Health Plan and Western Health Advantage.
But residents in some regions may see variations in cost. Los Angeles, for example, is divided into two areas, region 15 and 16. Region 15 includes Altadena, Pasadena and Long Beach, and those consumers will see premiums in some plans rise 4.4 percent. Some plans may even decrease in cost by 3.4 percent while the most expensive plan will see an 11 percent rise.
Region 16, which includes Pacoima, Encino, Torrance or Toluca Lake, will see a 4.3 percent average increase. But some of those low-cost plans may charge consumers 8.5 percent less, while the most expensive plans may see a 12.5 percent rise.
Residents in San Bernardino will see an average 4.5 percent increase.
Plans offered by Kaiser Permanente, meanwhile, will be lower overall in those regions.
"Those negotiations, along with healthy competition between plans and robust enrollment during Covered California's first year, have helped keep premiums affordable for 2015," said Charles Bacchi, executive vice president of the California Association of Health Plans. "It's a clear sign that the system in place is working, and Covered California is making it possible for individuals to purchase quality health coverage at affordable rates.
Caution advised on increases
Those who regulate, watch and advocate for lower health costs, including state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, praised the rates. He noted that the low increase reflects a transformation within the marketplace.
But Jones and others also cautioned that concerns remained.
"The news today is good," Jones said in a teleconference. "The fact that 10 (health insurers) had all rates that for the first time, and in some time, were not double-digit increases is good news."
Jones said health insurers pushed the pause button when it came to double-digit rate increases because of consumer complaints and lawsuits. He warned those single digit increases may rise because of a lack of competition. During the first enrollment period last year, there were 11 health insurers participating. Contra Costa Health Plan elected to withdraw from the market place this year.
About 1.4 million people purchased private plans through Covered California in the first enrollment period, more than in any other state. And about 2 million enrolled in Medi-Cal.
Anthony Wright, executive director for consumer advocacy group Health Access California, called the high enrollment rates and low increases to health insurance premiums a "rebuke to the opposition of the Affordable Care Act,"
"Today we see another part of the promise of reform being fulfilled," Wright said.
But Wright acknowledged some tough challenges remain for Covered California, including offering health plans that have a limited number of physicians available. In addition, thousands of newly enrolled Medi-Cal recipients have been unable to access providers because of computer glitches.
Lee acknowledged those issues and said that some health plans have broadened their networks since the first enrollment period. He also said Covered California will build a centralized data base to assess what is working and what is not.
He said those challenges should not distract from the real goals of the Affordable Care Act.
"As we move into our second open enrollment and first renewal for many Californians, we are glad to see consumers have a real choice, with affordable options in all regions," Lee said.
(c)2014 the Daily News (Los Angeles)
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Original headline: Californians to see slight rise in health insurance premiums, state exchange officials say
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