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California 2018 health insurance rates come out Tuesday, and they'll likely be higher

Covered California logo. Covered California

Californians will learn Tuesday how much health insurance will cost in 2018. And for the 9 percent of Californians who buy health insurance through Covered California, rates could be to be up to 17 percent higher, according to officials with the state exchange.

Covered California’s rate release comes just after multiple attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed in Washington, and the president calling to "let Obamacare fail." Obamacare supporters are celebrating the U.S. Senate’s failure to repeal the law, but they’re still concerned about the future of the state’s marketplace.

"The victory here is that we preserved the federal framing and financing of the Affordable Care Act," says Anthony Wright, executive director of the advocacy group Health Access. "Under that federal framework and financing, California has shown that we can make progress and take additional steps toward that goal."

But California’s Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, is still concerned.  

"The president is still doing very, very corrosive actions that are having a real effect on health markets across the United States," says Jones.

The Trump administration can choose not to enforce the federal requirement to buy health insurance and not advertise open enrollment. Both actions would lead to less people signing up for care.

The state has options to respond to a lack of federal investment in advertisement. Covered California plans to invest heavily in marketing, as they have in recent years, to make sure people know they’re open for business.

The marketplace officials are most concerned about a threat to do away with funding to insurers that cover some out-of-pocket costs for people of Silver plans, the most popular insurance plans.

"We only have a limited number of tools at our disposal at the state level to try to counteract that," says Jones.

California also has a plan to address the potential loss of federal money. Insurers will be allowed to tack on a surcharge to monthly premiums for the most popular plans; that would cover some out-of-pocket costs. The state predicts consumers would get big enough federal premium subsidies to take care of the increase.

"We’ve really felt that we have done what we can to protect consumers from what’s going on in Washington, while trying to reassure our health carriers to keep California’s market stable," says James Scullary, spokesman for Covered California.

Even with these changes, Commissioner Jones says California is “not immune” to the consequences of the Trump administration's actions.

"I anticipate that we will see higher rates and there’s the potential that some health insurers will either depart certain parts of California or reduce the areas in which they’re selling," says Jones.

The commissioner wouldn’t discuss specifics of what will be revealed in Tuesday’s rate announcements, but other states have seen double digit rate increases and insurers have pulled out of some markets. This has been most prevalent in rural parts of the country.

In mid-July the state exchange announced they’d push back the date they’d publish 2018 rates.