N.C. Blue Cross Plan Cuts Obamacare Rate Hike Request

Stay ahead of developments in federal and state health care law, regulation and transactions with timely, expert news and analysis.

By Andrew M. Ballard

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the state’s largest health insurer, is lowering the rate hike request it made for coverage it will offer in 2018 under the Affordable Care Act.

Earlier this year, the Blues plan asked the state Department of Insurance for a 22.9 percent average rate increase for individual plans. That increase request has been revised to 14.1 percent for next year, based on claims data from the first quarter of 2017, Lew Borman, a spokesman for the Durham, N.C.-based insurer, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 3.

A representative of a consumer advocacy group said the lower rate request shows that exchange markets are stabilizing and costs could be lowered even further with federal support.

Limited Choices

BCBSNC is the only insurer offering individual ACA plans in all 100 counties in North Carolina. More than 500,000 people are enrolled in such plans for the current year, and the Blues plan says it has regularly lost money on those offerings.

“While we are pleased to request a lower increase than we first anticipated, health care is still too expensive,” according to Borman. “There is still great uncertainty surrounding the ACA,” and health-care costs are rising “at an unsustainable rate,” he said.

The revised rate request must be approved by the state Department of Insurance.

Markets Stabilizing

Ciara Zachary, a policy analyst for the Raleigh-based North Carolina Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 3 that, while the lower rate request is “good news,” costs to consumers could be lowered even further if federal cost-sharing reduction payments were guaranteed and fully funded.

BCBSNC’s lowering of its rate request also demonstrates that, contrary to some assertions, “the market is not imploding” in North Carolina or nationwide, according to Zachary. Rather, she said, insurers are “figuring out” the ACA exchange markets, and the system is stabilizing.

Congress should work to support the ACA marketplace and guarantee the subsidies, as withholding such payments doesn’t punish insurers, it harms individuals, Zachary told Bloomberg BNA. The Blues plan’s announcement is “a step in the right direction, but it could have been better” with congressional support, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew M. Ballard in Raleigh, N.C., at aballard@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Health Care on Bloomberg Law