How much will CA health insurance cost next year? Wait a little longer to find out

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Californians who buy individual health insurance plans on the state exchange won’t know how much their 2018 monthly premiums might be until Aug. 1.

Covered California had originally planned to release its proposed rates this week, but it said Tuesday that it's waiting because of the "unprecedented uncertainty" in Washington, DC over the future of the Affordable Care Act. 

The exchange pushed the release of the 2018 rates to the last date allowed under federal guidelines. 

While the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare has failed, California regulators are still concerned that the Trump administration will do away with cost-sharing subsidies that cover some out-of-pocket costs for about a half million lower-income Californians.

Paul Ginsburg agrees that’s a key issue for market stability. The director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy sees this week's failure to repeal or replace Obamacare as a stabilizing factor for the health insurance market. But until insurance companies know what the federal government will do about cost-sharing subsidies, it’s tough to know what they’ll need to charge customers, he said.

"How much money are [insurers] going to lose with a policy that is subsidizing cost sharing according to the income of the enrollee, but is not being reimbursed [by the federal government] for those additional expenses?" said Ginsburg.

If the Trump administration does away with this key piece of the Affordable Care Act, the state has a backup plan. In June, Covered California told insurers to create health plans outside of the exchange that would provide the same discounts on out-of-pocket costs that consumers get now with the subsidies. To make up for not receiving the subsidies, insurers would be allowed to charge higher premiums - from 15 to 17 percent higher, according to Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee. 

In addition to leading to higher premiums, ending the cost-sharing subsidies "may cause insurers to leave the market in 2018," state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Tuesday.

At the same time, Ginsburg feels somewhat reassured that Covered California is trying to prepare for the loss of the subsidies.

"Knowing that capable agencies who believe in the Affordable Care Act are trying to come up with at least a short-term resolution to allow it to continue, at least I get some reduction of uncertainty knowing they’re on the job," he said.