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Kansas Insurance Commissioner Reduces Proposed Obamacare Rate Increases

Premiums for Kansas health insurance plans offered in the federal marketplace won’t increase as much as originally proposed, state Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer said Tuesday.

In May, Kansas insurance companies requested rate increases of up to 39 percent for individual market policies to be sold through the healthcare.gov marketplace during the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1 and ends Jan. 31, 2016.

But Selzer, a Republican serving his first term, said rate reviews conducted by the department reduced the proposed increases to an average range of 9.4 percent to 25.4 percent.

A single average increase wasn’t calculated, said Bob Hanson, a spokesperson for the department.

“During the review process our department was able to lower many of the rate increase requests for 2016, saving significant money for Kansas consumers compared to the original requests,” Selzer said in a news release. “We worked to find the balance between company claims trends and the need to hold down consumer rates.” 

Still, Selzer, an opponent of the Affordable Care Act, said that federal mandates — including a requirement that companies cover anyone seeking to purchase a policy regardless of their health status — were responsible for the rate increases.

But Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Project in Kansas, said the increases reflect “what it actually costs to insure a large majority of the population,” noting that the system that existed prior to the ACA “excluded a lot of people” who were sick.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, the state’s largest health insurer, requested rate increases of 35 percent to 39 percent. Coventry Health Care requested increases of 20 percent to 35 percent.

At the time the requests were submitted, Mary Beth Chambers, a spokesperson for BCBS of Kansas, said the increases were necessary to cover anticipated claims in 2016. She said the rates charged by the company in 2014 and 2015 weren’t sufficient to cover the claims of new policy holders, many of whom were previously uninsured.

“In 2014, we absorbed about $74 million in underwriting losses,” Chambers said, explaining that many of the Kansans who purchased marketplace policies required more services, had more chronic conditions and needed more expensive drugs than the company anticipated.

Six companies will offer a total of 96 plans in the 2016 marketplace. In addition to BCBS of Kansas they are: Coventry Health & Life Insurance Company, Coventry Health Care of Kansas Inc., BlueCross BlueShield Kansas Solutions Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, and UnitedHealthcare of the Midwest Inc. 

Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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