Customers of the Obamacare exchange markets in Georgia got bad news this summer when insurers first disclosed the rates they want to charge next year. Not only were double-digit increases on the table — well over 50 percent for some plans — but some insurers flat-out said they might rise even more.
Now the final deadline for rates is approaching. And according to state officials, premiums will indeed rise even more.
“The amended rates are higher than those originally filed with this office,” the state Department of Insurance said in a statement. “While outside actuaries are still reviewing the rates, it appears that in Obamacare’s fifth year, Georgians will experience another double-digit premium increase.”
The final proposals must be done by Sept. 27.
“Oh boy,” said Kirk Lyman-Barner, who sells insurance policies on the Obamacare exchange. He pointed out that for lower-income customers who get subsidies, the burden of higher premiums will fall not on them but on taxpayers because the government will have to fill the gap for poorer customers with subsidies. However, people stop qualifying for subsidies at just $50,000 or so for a family household, so those with higher incomes will be faced with simply paying the whole raised rate.
“It’s very hard on the folks who are not getting a subsidy,” Lyman-Barner said.
Insurers have made no bones about what is to blame: uncertainty in the White House and Congress over basic insurance policy. At least one company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, baldly warned the state that it could raise rates even higher than its initial proposals if messaging from Washington did not resolve the issue. So far it has not been resolved.
In fact, just this week as Republican and Democratic senators worked in old-fashioned bipartisanship to take small steps to stabilize the exchange, word leaked that that effort could be upstaged.
A separate effort to revive legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare was yet again under fevered discussion, though as of Friday afternoon it seemed stuck where it was this summer, still just short of the necessary votes to pass.
In July, Georgia’s Department of Insurance released the insurance companies’ first proposals for 2018 rates and coverage areas, which represent the start of negotiations between them and the state. They all came in with major premium increases, but the shocker was Blue Cross, the state’s only statewide insurer on the Obamacare exchange market.
Blue Cross proposed a rate increase averaging 40.6 percent across its policies. The other three companies remaining on the exchange also proposed double-digit increases: 12.4 percent on average for Ambetter, 18.6 percent percent for Alliant and 25 percent for Kaiser Permanente.
Then Blue Cross announced an even more alarming move: For the first time in decades, the company was pulling out of the individual market in metro Atlanta and other urban areas of the state. In documents related to that decision, the insurer warned the state it might pull back even more by the final September deadline — depending on news from Washington.
The company this week did not make public the information on its final filings. It referred questions to the state, and a spokesman for the Insurance Department said there were as yet no updates.
Andy Miller, the editor of Georgia Health News, contributed to this article.