From left, Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak, Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler; Alaska Division of Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier; Insurance Commissioner of Pennsylvania Theresa Miller and Oklahoma Department of Insurance Commissioner John Doak, testify during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on the individual health insurance market for 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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After doubling in the previous three years, health insurance rates for individual coverage in Tennessee will increase again next year anywhere from 21.4 percent to 42.1 percent.

State regulators approved the higher insurance rates Wednesday, blaming part of the increase on the uncertainty over the future of coverage in the health exchange markets as Congress debates the future of Obamacare.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance approved the full amount of the rate hikes requested by the state's biggest health insurers, in part, to help ensure that the companies maintain some degree of coverage in all 95 counties of the state.

* BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state's biggest health insurer, was granted an average 21.4 percent rate increase for individual coverage plans in 2018. That was only a third of the 62 percent rate jump BlueCross got for this year, but the average rates offered by the Chattanooga-based insurer have more than doubled since the Tennessee BlueCross plan debuted its Obamacare rates in 2014 as some of the lowest in the nation.

Next year, BlueCross rates will rise anywhere from 4.6 percent up to 44.5 percent, depending upon the coverage plan. BlueCross did agree to return to the Knoxville market with individual plans after the 16-county region was left without an insurer for 2018 when Humana pulled out of the individual exchange.

* Cigna Corp., the state's second- biggest health insurer, got state approval for an average 42.1 percent rate hike in 2018, ranging from increases of 12.2 percent for some individual plans up to 182.2 percent for other plans.

* Tennessee is getting a new health insurance carrier, Oscar Health, which was founded by the brother of President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Oscar Health Insurance, a New York-based company founded by Joshua Kushner, Mario Schlosser and Kevin Nazemi, is offering to provide individual plans in the Nashville market. Oscar is a subsidiary of Mulberry Health Inc. and is expanding into Tennessee, Ohio, Texas, New Jersey and California next year.


"Why seek to expand in a time of uncertainty?" Mario Schlosser, CEO and co-founder of Oscar, asks in a blog post about the company's 2018 plans. "We're confident that when the dust settles, the market for health insurance will stabilize in time for 2018. For all of the political noise, there are simply too many lives at stake for representatives in Washington, D.C., not to do what's right for the people."

But Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak, who testified last week before a Senate health subcommittee on rising health insurance rates under the Affordable Care Act, said uncertainty about the future of health care in the current Congress is contributing to higher rates in 2018. Insurers priced into their rates the possibility that cost sharing payments might not be paid or that other changes might be adopted in Congress to adversely affect the pool of those seeking health insurance.

McPeak said she was "disappointed" that bipartisan talks for reforms broke down earlier this week, although she does favor changes proposed by U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-La., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., to replace Obamacare with block grants to the states.

"It appears more likely that Tennesseans must prepare themselves for a round of actuarially justified rates for 2018 that are far higher than could be necessary as a result of uncertainty in Washington," she said in a statement today. "On behalf of Tennessee consumers, I continue to urge Congress to take action to stabilize insurance markets."

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said McPeak "is trying to work a balancing act to keep rates affordable but also make sure we still have coverage plans in all areas of the state" after Humana, Aetna and United Healthcare pulled out of Tennessee's individual market. Keeping at least some coverage in all areas has been the primary concern, Haslam said.

Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, said the rate hikes "are going to be horribly damaging for many Tennesseans."

"It's ultimately disappointing because Congress has been unable to deal with these complicated problems," she said. "The rates are high and going up even more next year, in part, because of the chaos that the Congress and president have created this year over the uncertainty about the future of health care."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must now review Tennessee's approvals. The insurance companies will have until Sept. 27 to sign agreements with CMS to participate in the marketplace.

On Oct. 5, the department will hold a public meeting where insurance carriers will present their coverage plans to navigators.

Open enrollment for 2018 is slated to begin Nov. 1 and last through Dec. 15.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-340.


This story was updated Sept. 20 at 10:10 p.m. with more information.