PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s commercial health insurers are hoping to increase rates by double-digits next year in some cases, according to the R.I. Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner.
The rate requests will now be reviewed by the commissioner’s office, which said it will accept public comment on them through July 27. Final approved rates for next year are usually announced in August.
The commissioner’s office attributed the potential rate rises to “increases in the cost of health care services, including prescription drug cost trends,” as well as “continuing uncertainty over federal policy actions around the Affordable Care Act.” Congressional Republicans tried and failed to repeal the Obama health law last year but remain opposed to it, leaving some doubt about the measure’s future.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the state’s dominant insurer, wants to increase rates by an average of 10.7% for individuals; 10.6% for large employers; and 5.7% for small employers. The age of the enrollee and the plan chosen determines the exact size of the increase.
Blue Cross spokeswoman Gail Carvelli attributed the proposed increases primarily to “the cost and number of health care services and prescription drugs used by BCBSRI members.” She said the increases would have been higher if Congress had not suspended the federal tax on health insurers for this year.
Carvelli said the 10.7% proposed increase for individual buyers “reflects the high cost of care of our sickest members and highlights the need for market stabilization programs such as reinsurance.” State officials are currently reviewing policies that could lower costs in the individual market, and she said it’s possible a reinsurance program “could slow premium increases for individuals by 10% or more.”
Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, a fast-growing insurer that has historically focused on lower-income residents, wants to increase rates by an average of 8.7% for individuals, but wants to reduce them slightly for small employers. (Neighborhood does not currently sell insurance to large employers.)
Elizabeth McClaine, a Neighborhood executive, said that if approved, the insurer’s rates are expected to be “among the lowest” of any plans offered on Affordable Care Act exchanges nationwide. “Neighborhood was able to file these remarkably low rates even in the face of changes at the federal level that dramatically undermine the stability of our state’s exchange,” she said, referring to HealthSource RI.
A third insurer, Tufts Health Plan, wants to raise rates by an average of more than 10% for small and large employers.
“Our overall rates in the market are very competitive and we remain committed to providing access to affordable, high quality health care to both large and small employers in Rhode Island, and their employees,” Tufts spokeswoman Kathleen Makela said.
UnitedHealthcare did not respond to a request for comment about its rate requests. United wants to increase rates by an average of 3.4% for small employers who buy HMO plans but reduce them slightly for small employers who buy PPO plans. United also wants to raise rates 9.1% for large employers.
Elected officials were quick to weigh in after the insurers’ proposals became public.
Democratic Congressman David Cicilline blamed his Republican colleagues in Washington for including provisions in last year’s tax law that undid portions of the Affordable Care Act.
“Access to quality, affordable health care should be a right for all Americans, not just a privilege for the wealthy and well-off,” Cicilline said in a statement Wednesday night. “It’s completely unacceptable that this increase is going to make it harder than ever for working Rhode Islanders to have affordable health care.”
Others argued the numbers show Rhode Island should consider a single-payer health care system.
“Working families cannot keep up with the rate hikes that our private health care system demands and will continue to demand,” said state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. “We shouldn’t be asking if Rhode Island can afford to move to a Medicare-for-All system – we should be asking how we can afford not to.”
“Rhode Islanders are already paying more than enough for universal healthcare – but our money is going to billing, and administration, and advertising, and corporate profits, and CEO bonuses,” he added.