- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - Nearly a dozen health insurers are proposing double-digit rate increases for 2016 Florida plans sold on the exchanges created under President Barack Obama’s health care law as well as individual coverage sold through brokers and agents.

One of Aetna Health Inc.’s plans requested a 21 percent hike, and plans for United Health Care of Florida and Coventry Health Care of Florida were looking for hikes of 18 percent. United requested a 31 percent increase in one of its plans sold off the exchange, according to preliminary rate information released Monday on the federal government’s HealthCare.gov website. Cigna requested a modest 12 percent raise.

But it’s unclear what will happen with the state’s largest health insurer, Florida Blue. The Blue Cross affiliate has requested trade secret protection for its 2016 marketplace rates, and company officials declined to comment publicly on its filings.

State health officials are set to release the final figures in early August, but the early figures are pointing to bigger premium increases than in 2015. Still, the preliminary dat data reveals only a partial picture of the market showing the worse-case scenario because the law only requires insurers to report proposed increases of 10 percent or more.

Insurers cited higher-than-expected care costs and other expenses this year as the reason for the spike, but it’s not clear whether any of the preliminary rate hikes will stick because Florida insurance regulators now have the power to reject price increases. State lawmakers froze those powers for the first two years of the law.

Individual health insurance policies are a relatively small slice of the overall market because many more people are insured through an employer. Consumers also have the option to purchase a different plan each year.

Rising health insurance prices have been the subject of growing scrutiny for years as critics of so-called “Obamacare” point to rate increases as a signal the law isn’t working. But rates have risen as much as 20 or 30 percent in recent years.

Insurance companies have said their early enrollees were sicker than they had anticipated and were requiring more costly care.

United said that, in addition to more office visits and other consumer services, larger reimbursements to doctors and hospitals and more expensive medical technology contributed to its increase.

“Medical costs are going up, and we are changing our rates to reflect this increase. We expect medical costs to go up 10 percent. Medical costs go up mainly for two reasons: Providers raise their prices and members get more medical care,” Aetna wrote in its filing, also citing increased costs for prescriptions and outpatient hospital services.

This year also marks the first time insurers are basing their premiums on a full year of cost or claims data. That’s a first for plans sold on the overhaul’s public insurance exchanges, which started enrolling customers in fall 2013.

Rates for 2015, for instance, were set based on only a few months of data collected last spring. Insurers normally want to see a couple of years of claims from a patient population before they set rates.

Despite strong Republican opposition, Florida led the way for enrollment in the U.S. with 1.4 million. That number dipped from the 1.6 million figure released earlier this year after federal officials on Tuesday revealed the total number of enrollees who had actually paid.

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This story has been corrected to show that Florida Blue has not filed its rates publicly, citing trading secrets.

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