All But One Washington State Insurers To Hike Premiums

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Washington state has just one insurer proposing to lower its premium rates for 2015, after the smaller company offered some of the highest rates in the state exchange this year. Most premiums will be raised anywhere from 0.6 to 26 percent.

Molina Healthcare’s Washington state filing proposed a 6.8 percent decrease in premiums on average — the only individual insurance offering to offer a decrease. But Molina, which covered just 1,200 members in 2014, offered some of the highest premiums in the Washington Obamacare exchange, the Wall Street Journal reports.

On the other end of the spectrum, Time Insurance Company, which covers a similar number of people, is looking to up premiums by 26 percent.

Insurers that priced their premiums overly high in 2014 out of caution over joining the risky Obamacare exchanges may choose to lower their drastically higher premiums, like Molina. But it’s not clear whether bigger insurers which priced their 2014 plans more competitively will be able to lower their prices as well.

“With hindsight and looking at what’s going on across the country…we’ve improved those assumptions and lowered our rates in 2015,” Molina vice president Ben Lyman told the Wall Street Journal.

Washington insurers proposed premium hikes ranging from 0.57 percent, from Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest to 14.2 percent from Group Health Options, which sells only off-exchange plans. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan’s Mid-Atlantic branch proposed a slightly higher hike of 3.3 percent on average in Virginia, which boasted a less highly regulated insurance market than Washington state. (RELATED: Virginia First To Release Post-Obamacare Premium Proposals: Rate Hikes For All

Molina expects its annual medical costs to increase just 2 percent in 2015, while Group Health Options, which proposed the largest hike, expected annual costs to rise by 8.6 percent.

Washington’s results aren’t all that surprising. Along with New York, the state housed one of the most highly regulated insurance markets before the Affordable Care Act was passed. The regulation-heavy environment has already raised its head in Washington even after Obamacare’s implementation.

After backlash against the narrow provider networks that have become a hallmark of the health care law, Washington’s insurance commissioner issued a rule in April to dictate just how narrow insurers will be allowed to go. (RELATED: Washington Approves Premium-Hiking Regulations Despite Insurer, Hospital Protests

Insurance companies warned that given Obamacare’s requirements to provide a bevy of services to each and every customer, regardless of their wishes, their only choice to control costs if narrower networks are banned would be to raise premiums.

But Washington’s insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler approved the rule just two weeks ago, leaving insurers with little time to consider their options before submitting their 2015 rates.

Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the state insurance office, emphasized that insurers have just several months of claims data to go on for their proposals and had to use other means of justifying rate increases, again complicating the review process for proposals.

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