The Buzz

Her Health Plan Was $257 a Month. Now Her Obamacare Plan Could Be $650 a Month.

Ask 68-year-old Gavin Braithwaite how he feels about the amount he and his wife, Louellen, are expecting to pay for health insurance next year, and he’ll tell you he’s horrified, but not exactly surprised.

Since 1992, Gavin said, he’s watched the cost of their coverage increase over the years.

In the past few years, the Braithwaites say they’ve seen the cost of their premiums go from $257 per month in 2014 to $285 for the first nine months of 2015—their policy changed the last three months of the year—to $494 per month in 2016.

So Gavin wasn’t surprised to learn that his wife’s insurer, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, asked for a rate increase of 32.5 percent for next year, which would bring the cost of her premiums to more than $650 per month.

But, he said, he is horrified.

Gavin and Louellen have lived in Delaware for 24 years, first in Wilmington and now in Lewes, where they started a retail gift shop after leaving the corporate and academic worlds.

The couple retired last year.

In 2013, Gavin turned 65 and enrolled in Medicare. But his wife is 12 years his junior, and she won’t become eligible for Medicare until 2025. So, Louellen has an individual market plan available on the exchange through Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Louellen doesn’t qualify for a subsidy.

A spokesman for Highmark could not confirm or deny that she is a customer.

“Yikes,” Gavin told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “When it went up last year, we were saying to ourselves we didn’t know what we’re going to do next year. And would you believe it? Another 32 percent.”

Rate Increases Nationwide:

The Braithwaites are not alone.

Across the country, insurers have slowly been submitting their proposed rates for 2017 to state insurance commissioners, and most are seeking double-digit increases.

Large insurers including Aetna and Humana joined UnitedHealthcare in deciding to leave Obamacare’s exchanges altogether. And 16 of the 23 co-ops started under the Affordable Care Act have failed, leaving health policy experts questioning the impact dwindling insurer participation will have on rates beyond 2017.

In Delaware, two insurers will sell coverage on the exchange next year—Highmark and Aetna.

While Highmark asked for the average rate hike of 32.5 percent for next year, Aetna customers may see their premium costs increase between 23.9 percent and 25 percent.

Whether those increases become finalized, though, is up to Delaware Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart.

“These large rate increase requests are occurring in many states across the country, and I know they will be a burden for many Delawareans,” Stewart said in June.

The insurance commissioner said she recognized the proposed increases were “substantial” and promised to work to reduce them.

Still, consumers living in Delaware expressed outrage at Highmark and Aetna’s proposals in public comments to the state Department of Insurance.

Andrew Edmonds of Wilmington, who has coverage through Highmark, told the state his family’s insurance premiums will rise as much as 35 percent in 2017.

Edmonds said his family doesn’t qualify for subsidies, and he said he worries that if the state approves the insurer’s requested rates, “there will soon come a point where we will no longer be able to afford health insurance.”

In documents filed with state regulators, insurance companies pointed to the end of federal programs implemented under the Affordable Care Act as well as high medical costs as the reason for increased rates.

Aetna, which requested average rate increases of up to 24.9 percent for those with coverage on the exchange in Delaware, said the end of the transitional reinsurance program Dec. 31 will cause premiums to rise 5 percent, according to documents filed with the Department of Insurance.

The reinsurance program was one of three designed to transfer risk among insurers. Insurance companies selling coverage in the individual market collectively received reinsurance payments totaling $6.7 billion for 2014.

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