By WALTER C. JONESMORRIS NEWS SERVICE – updated Saturday, June 15, 2013 – 10:08pm
ATLANTA – If the example one Georgia insurance company offered is true of the others, coverage under the individual plans to be offered in October under federal health reform will be about 45 percent higher than what a middle-aged family of five could get today.
“I am very concerned that the full implementation of ObamaCare will drastically increase the price Georgians pay for health insurance,” said Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.
But officials at the Georgia Department of Insurance aren’t ready to offer any public conclusions while independent actuaries evaluate the plans and premiums seven companies submitted in April. Hudgens has the power to reject rates he considers too high even though the federal government will operate Georgia’s online exchange where they’ll be sold in addition to private insurance agents.
“Insurers cannot expect to hide behind changes in federal law as a pretext for boosting their bottom line,” he said. “My first responsibility is to protect Georgia consumers, and as ObamaCare continues to unfold, I will do my best to fulfill that duty.”
One company, Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthcare Plan of Georgia, included an example of the cheapest option under the federally prescribed plans. For the middle-aged couple living in Albany and their three children – including one who smokes – the monthly premium is $1,605, which is higher than what the company offers now for the same family, at $1,100, according to Georgia Health Coverage Inc., an independent insurance agency.
The new plans will cover more situations – such as maternity – will have the same rates for men and women and can’t charge more or deny coverage for anyone with a serious medical condition like diabetes or cancer. So, it may be better to compare them to the plans offered to small companies, which also automatically accept all medical conditions, notes Bill Custer, director of Georgia State University’s Center for Health Services Research.
Custer reviewed all of the submitted premiums and concluded they’re in line with or slightly lower than the existing small-group plans sold in Georgia.
“They’re not necessarily cheaper. It depends on who you are,” he said. “A younger person may actually pay more than they are now, and an older person will pay less.”
Hudgens’ staff said he is on schedule to complete his review in time to approve sales of the plans before Oct. 1, when the federal government will open the state’s insurance exchange. Consumers will have until Jan. 1 to shop, either on the exchange or through an insurance agent. Those wanting help with the exchange will be able to get it free from a new type of federally-funded expert called a navigator, but Hudgens hasn’t yet set their licensing requirements.
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