Charleston Post and Courier

October 10, 2014

S.C. Department of Insurance expects slight increase for 2015 health plans

By Lauren Sausser

Obamacare isn’t driving health insurance premiums through the roof in South Carolina.

In fact, individual plans sold through or directly by insurance companies should only increase by about 1 percent in this state next year.

That’s a relatively minor bump compared to some other states – and much lower than the 50 percent to 70 percent increase that South Carolina officials predicted a year ago.

According to the state Department of Insurance, the premium for a 2015 plan may increase by 39 percent this year or decrease by 35 percent depending on a shopper’s address, age, smoking status and the type of plan he or she chooses. But overall, prices will only tick up by 1 percent.

“We’ve seen somewhat of an increase this year. It’s minor,” said S.C. Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer.

This is the first information the department has provided on prices for 2015 insurance plans in South Carolina. Farmer offered The Post and Courier an early look at the estimates. He said the department expects to publish some of the information online Friday, including a few sample scenarios comparing price variation year over year.

“Our goal is to get as much information on the website as we can so consumers can start that process,” he said.

Still, it will be difficult for shoppers to figure out how much they’ll actually pay every month until open enrollment through the federal health insurance marketplace launches in mid-November. The estimates provided by the Department of Insurance do not factor in federal subsidies that most health insurance customers qualify for. Depending on income, the government may offset the price for a policy. About 85 percent of South Carolinians who bought a policy through the federal marketplace qualified for one of these subsidies last year.

It’s also worth noting that these estimates only pertain to plans on the individual market – most of which are purchased through the Obamacare health insurance website. The vast majority of residents in this state will not need to shop for an Affordable Care Act policy because they are already insured by Medicaid, Medicare or through their employer.

Farmer pointed out that 4.7 million people live in South Carolina and only about 100,000 purchased a policy through during the last open enrollment period.

“That’s a small number obtaining their insurance on the exchange,” he said.

An even smaller number of customers bought an individual plan directly through an insurance company. Doing so disqualified them for a federal subsidy to lower their costs.

An analysis published by the Kaiser Family Foundation in September shows rates for some policies will increase by as much 9 percent in Tennessee and could fall by nearly 16 percent in Colorado next year.

“There is variation, but so far, premium increases in year two of the Affordable Care Act are generally modest,” said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a prepared statement.

Customers shopping on the federal marketplace this year in South Carolina may choose between 126 plans offered by five companies – up from 52 plans last year offered by four companies.

Farmer urged shoppers to do their homework. They should pay attention to maximum out-of-pocket costs and research which doctors and hospitals will be covered under the plans, he said.

“There will be more plans for our consumers to consider. There will be more need for our consumers to shop.”

The federal health care law requires almost everyone who isn’t already insured to purchase a policy. The penalty in 2014 was $95 or 1 percent of your household income. Next year, the individual mandate jumps to $325 or 2 percent of your household income – whichever amount is greater.

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