- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Health insurance premiums for Illinois residents who buy coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace could increase by as much as 45 percent according to proposals submitted by insurers and made public Monday.

The leading insurer on Illinois’ exchange, Blue Cross Blue Shield, is proposing increases for 2017 ranging from 23 percent to 45 percent for individual health care plans, according to proposals posted by Heathcare.gov. Another insurer, Coventry Health Care of Illinois, proposed rate increases as high as 21 percent.

Harken Health Insurance Company has proposed a nearly 29 percent hike in individual premiums and Health Alliance Medical Plans Inc. a more than 28 percent increase.

In a statement, Health Care Service Corporation, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, said that although no final decision has been made, the proposed rates are in line with those in many markets across the country. It added that while some carriers have chosen to exit the market, it is “working toward continuing to provide health insurance options for consumers in Illinois.

“However, that must be done in a sustainable way,” the statement said. “Premium rates must cover the anticipated health care needs of our members, and consumer protections exist in the way of rebates if a certain percent of premiums do not go directly to covering medical services and quality programs. “

The proposed hikes have been expected because the health care law has been a financial drain for many companies.

Analysts have noted insurers are facing higher medical costs from customers, and some companies priced their initial coverage too low in an attempt to grab new business.

The Illinois Department of Insurance has until Aug. 23 to review the proposed rates, but, unlike several other states, it doesn’t have the power to reject the proposed rates outright.

“We don’t put too much stock in the numbers as they stand right now because we know the (Department of Insurance) is really negotiating the rates up until the last deadline,” Kathy Waligora, director of EverThrive Illinois’ health reform initiative, told the Chicago Tribune.

Illinois’ marketplace has been roiled by recent defections. UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest health insurer, is leaving after just two years of minimal participation. And Chicago-based Land of Lincoln Health, a 3-year-old startup that sold plans throughout the state, collapsed after suffering heavy losses. Its 49,000 enrollees are looking for new coverage for the rest of the year.

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