- Associated Press - Thursday, September 28, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah officials say health insurance rates for Utah residents who buy coverage under the Affordable Care Act will rise by an average of 39 percent next year.

Utah’s Insurance Department released a sampling of rates Thursday for plans sold in the individual insurance market.

The steep increase follows double-digit increases last year and comes as shaky markets around the country have grappled with steep losses since 2014 and uncertainty in Washington about how Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration will manage the program.

The rate increases apply to those buying their insurance individually - unlike most workers and their families who get insurance through their employer.

The sampling of premiums released Thursday - showing expected rates for 21-year-old nonsmokers - don’t include calculations about how much a family might pay or how much government subsidies will help defray their costs.

Jason Stevenson with Utah Health Policy Project, a nonprofit that advocates affordable health care, said 86 percent of the roughly 180,000 Utah residents who buy the plans will not be hit by steep increases because they also qualify for government tax credits.

Stevenson said insurers around the country have raised their rates as the Trump administration has threatened to stop federal payments to insurance companies that reduce costs for lower-earning customers.

The payments, separate from the income-based tax credits, reimburse insurers that provide low-income people with lower deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. Trump has called them an insurance company bailout.

Utah Insurance Department spokesman Steve Gooch said Utah - like other states this year - asked the insurance companies to file their 2018 rates assuming that Trump won’t continue the payments.

Stevenson said ending the payments would be one of the most serious efforts to undercut President Barack Obama’s signature health care law - which Trump and Congressional Republicans have pledged to repeal.

Gooch said the department is recommending consumers shop around for plans on the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance marketplace, healthcare.gov, and offline through private brokers, to compare deals.

Utah has fared a bit better than more than 24 dozen states where residents in some areas are projected to have only one insurer offering them plans through the “Obamacare” marketplaces.

Residents in all of Utah’s 29 counties next year will be able to compare plans from two insurers - SelectHealth and University of Utah Health Plans.

University of Utah Health Plans, which offered plans in 16 counties last year, is expanding to the whole state.

One insurer, Molina, left the market in Utah and Wisconsin this year, citing heavy losses from the insurance marketplaces that were part Obama’s health care law.

Molina had offered plans in seven northern Utah counties this year. Open enrollment in the marketplace starts Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15 - a window that the Trump administration has shortened from past years by six weeks.

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