- The Washington Times - Monday, October 26, 2015

Consumers seeking 2016 coverage on the federal Obamacare exchange will see an average premium increase of 7.5 percent on vital mid-tier plans, the administration said Monday in an enrollment season preview that shows a bigger bump in prices than last year, as insurers get a feel for the new marketplace.

While notably higher than a 2-percent spike heading into the 2015 sign-up season, the administration can tout some progress compared to double-digit increases recorded in the years before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said the increase applies to the second cheapest silver plan, or “benchmark,” by which income-based subsidies are calculated in each state’s marketplace.

Administration officials said eight in 10 returning customers can find a plan for less than $100 per month when open enrollment begins Nov. 1, and seven out of 10 can pay less than $75, once taxpayer subsidies are factored in.

“For most consumers, premium increases for 2016 are in the single digits and they will be able to find plans for less than $100 a month,” said Kevin Counihan, CEO of the Health Insurance Marketplaces.

The premiums hikes vary from state to state, from about 1 percent in Michigan to more than 30 percent in Alaska, Montana and Oklahoma.

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Benchmark premiums actually decreased, on average, in Indiana, Maine, Mississippi and Ohio, according to CMS.

Though modest overall, the rate hikes provide ammo to congressional Republicans who say President Obama forecast premiums would go down, not up, under his signature law.

Still, the 7.5 percent hike compares favorably to the years leading up Obamacare’s passage, when consumers faced 10-percent increases, on average, in the individual market, according to a 2014 study by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund.

Open enrollment on the federal HealthCare.gov website and a handful of state-run exchanges doesn’t begin until Sunday, though the federal portal has already loaded 2016 data for window shoppers.

Administration official urged returning customers to shop around for the best deal instead of blindly renewing in their existing plans.

An analysis from the 2015 sign-up season found customers who are willing to switch plans within their existing metal tier saved an average of nearly $400 per year compared to those who stayed in their existing plans.

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“If consumers come back to the Marketplace and shop, they may be able to find a plan that saves them money and meets their health needs,” Mr. Counihan said. “Last year, over half of re-enrolling consumers on HealthCare.gov shopped and half of those who shopped selected a new plan – that sort of choice and competition was limited prior to the Affordable Care Act.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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