Tennessee approves costly health exchange price hikes for state's biggest insurers

Thinkstock image / More and more consumers, in Chattanooga and elsewhere, are finding themselves responsible for larger portions of their medical bills, amounts that many are unable to pay despite having health insurance.
photo This Nov. 29, 2013 file photo shows part of the HealthCare.gov website, photographed in Washington. President Barack Obama's fickle health insurance website is finally starting to put up some respectable signup numbers, but its job only seems to have gotten harder. Two months in and out of the repair shop have left significantly less time to fulfill the White House goal of enrolling 7 million people for 2014 by the end of open enrollment March 31. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

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Price of health exchange plans poised to rise dramatically in TennesseeTennessee approves costly health exchange price hikes for state's biggest insurersAs rates soar, Tennessee insurers and regulators say Obamacare proving too risky, costlyNew study finds most Tennesseans will still be able to get individual health coverage for under $75 a month

Going up

These are the rate increases requested by health insurance companies that operate in Tennessee. 62 percent - BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee 46.3 percent - Cigna 44.3 percent - Humana Source: Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance

photo Julie Mix McPeak
photo Roy Vaughn


Tennessee regulators have approved the full amount of the rate increases requested by the three health insurers still offering exchange plans under ObamaCare, pushing up rates by the biggest amount since the program began three years ago.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state's biggest health insurer, will raise individual rates by 62 percent in 2017, or nearly double the 36 percent rate increase adopted this year by BlueCross. Small group rates in the marketplace exchange will rise by only 6.5 percent, however.

Cigna got state approval to raise its individual rates for its ObamaCare plans by 46.3 percent, while Humana got the OK for a 44.3 percent jump in premiums for individual plans next year.

The increases for the marketplace plans were the biggest of the rate increases approved by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, according to an announcement released this morning.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate health committee, said the increases prove that ObamaCare is not working. Alexander said the record increases under the program for 2017 are "only the most recent proof that Obamacare is spiraling out of control.

"How can anyone continue to defend this law while they watch it wreak havoc on family budgets, stealing money hardworking Tennesseans had set aside to buy a home or send their child to college but will now have to spend on their skyrocketing premiums?" Alexander asked.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the Affordable Care Act for the the Obama administration, said 85 percent of Tennesseans qualify for some type of federal subsidies to buy the individual exchange plans. As a result, the typical Tennessee household is paying only about $2 a month more than last year for coverage after the federal subsidies are included in the overall costs.

For off-marketplace plans, not included in the ObamaCare exchange program, health insurance rates will still rise by double digit levels for many Tennesseans and will outpace inflation for nearly all insured persons.

Aetna doesn't offer marketplace plans, but its other individual health plans will see a 14.1 percent jump in premiums in 2017. Aetna's rates for small employer groups will rise only 1.6 percent, according to the rate schedules adopted by the state.

State regulators approved a 17.3 percent increase in individual rates for Freedom Life and a 33.86 percent increase in individual rates for TRH Health.

Other small group rates approved by Tennessee regulators for 2017 include a 13.3 percent increase for Federated Mutual, a 6.77 percent increase for Humana and a 7.2 percent increase for United Healthcare.

"The approval of these rates begins a weeks-long process of communication between the Department, the Centers for Meducare and Medicaid Services, and the carriers....that concludes with the beginning of the Open Enrollment period on Nov. 1," said Kevin Walters, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Walters said Tennessee insurers have been hard hit by a higher use of health care services in Tennessee than in most states. The Chattanooga-based BlueCross also started the ObamaCare program with some of the lowest rates for individual policies anywhere in the country and has had to adjust its charges to reflect higher-than-expected costs and lower-than-expected participation by young and healthy individuals.