Feds reveal health plan rates, choices for Utah

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Associated Press

Posted on September 26, 2013 at 7:01 AM

Updated Thursday, Sep 26 at 7:05 AM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Premiums for a mid-range, health care plan in Utah will average $266 a month for an individual shopping the new insurance exchange, according to federal figures released Wednesday.

Utah's rate for the mid-level, benchmark plan is below the national average of $328 a month.

The Obama administration revealed a sampling of premiums and insurance plan choices in Utah and 35 other states where the federal government is launching health insurance marketplaces.

Utah's uninsured residents will be able to shop for coverage next week on the marketplace, a hallmark of the new health care overhaul.

Utah consumers will have an average of 82 health plans to choose from, more than the national average of 53.

White House officials are working to promote the Affordable Care Act to members of the public who may be skeptical or even unaware of what's coming. The push comes as Republicans in Congress, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, are fighting to thwart the health care law.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement that premiums around the country are about 16 percent lower than congressional budget experts had projected.

The report issued by the administration only shows rates for certain groups, and the premium averages don't tell the whole story. Premium rates can vary depending on where a consumer lives, how old they are, how big their family is, and what type of coverage they choose. Factors such as tobacco use can also play a role.

Tanji Northrup, an assistant commissioner with the Utah Insurance Department, told a panel of lawmakers Tuesday that her agency had compared rates in the upcoming market to current rates.

"Generally, we found that the increases in the marketplace are ranging between 30 and 108 percent," Northrup said.

New rules about rates for people based on their gender, age or health conditions have forced those changes, she said.

Northrup also pointed out that the plans under the law include new benefits for maternity, mental health and preventative care, among other features.

"The older, unhealthy individuals, because of this compression, may see a decrease, where your younger, healthy people will see a much larger increase as they have to help account for these unhealthy people who are entering into the pool," Northrup said.

Sen. Allen Christensen, a Republican from North Ogden, described the trade-off as "wealth redistribution."

Christensen, who chairs a legislative committee studying health reform, said higher rates were exactly what he feared would happen under the health overhaul.

"I expected some increases," he said. "I didn't expect them to be this high."

The plans are categorized as bronze, silver, gold and platinum, with varying levels of cost sharing through deductibles and copayments. For example, a bronze plan would offer the lowest monthly premiums but require the highest sharing of costs when a person seeks care.

Some of the rates released by HHS also take into consideration tax credits available to some lower-income families and individuals to help cover the costs of premiums.

For a 27-year-old making $25,000 a year in Utah, the premium for the second cheapest silver plan would be $203 a month. With a tax credit, that monthly premium would drop to $145 a month.

If that same 27-year-old used a tax credit to buy the cheapest bronze plan, they would see a $95 monthly premium.

For a family of four in Utah making $50,000 a year, the monthly premium would be $656 on the second lowest silver plan. That rate drops to $282 a month if the family uses a tax credit.

Under the lowest bronze plan in Utah, that family of four would pay $122 a month if they had a tax credit.

While the full picture will be released next week, these sample numbers are a good sign, said Jason Stevenson with the Utah Health Policy Project, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable care.

"Everyone was concerned that these rates, because of Obamacare, would be hundreds of percentage points higher," Stevenson said.

He said premium rates under the new law can't be compared to current rates because the benefits and the insurance market are wildly different. He said such comparisons aren't "even apples to oranges. It's rocks to oranges."

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