Verma Touts 1.5% Drop in Benchmark Premiums for 2019

Health insurance premiums in 39 states- including Connecticut- will drop in 2019 some by double digits according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Premiums for popular ACA health insurance dip for the first time

On average, premiums for silver plans across 39 states on the federal exchange will drop 1.5% in 2019, according to the agency.

CMS said the average individual market premiums in states in the federal exchange more than doubled between 2014, when the exchanges began, and 2017. The 5.1% decrease comes after two years of double-digit percentage increases-15.6% in 2018 and 17.7% in 2017. "Even with this reduction, average rates are still too high", said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

"The prediction was that the offering of short-term plans would have negative impact on the market and increase premiums, but we're not seeing the impact on the market", Verma said.

Premiums for the second-lowest cost silver plans in the Affordable Care Act federal exchanges will drop by an average of 1.5% in 2019, CMS said Thursday.

These slimmed-down insurance plans don't help people who drop their insurance from being penalized under the individual mandate, which is still in effect for 2018, but even with the penalty, these plans could be cheaper than paying for the ACA-approved plans, which cover more but cost more.

The premium rate drop was expected by those who watch the industry closely. Tennessee's rates will dive 26 percent and Pennsylvania will see a 16 percent drop, for instance, while states that do see increases will face "modest" pain, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which took a victory lap.

CMS released the figures ahead of the open enrollment season that begins November 1 and will last until December 15 in most states, though places that command their own Obamacare website may give customers more time. The other states and the District of Columbia have their own online marketplaces and were not included in the report.

For now, it's unclear whether the shift in Obamacare's fortunes will have a huge impact on enrollment, though Ms. Verma said the benchmark decrease "might attract more people to the exchanges".

Despite the rosier outlook for the Affordable Care Act, threats still loom. Outside health policy analysts, however, challenged the administration's reasoning, saying that the rates for ACA health plans were driven up a year ago in an overreaction to the administration's maneuvers and that prices would have been even lower for 2019 if Trump and his health-care aides had not been altering the law. The small number reflects policies of Trump administration.

During a call with reporters, Verma said the ACA is still a broken piece of legislation that Congress should replace. To make up for all the uncertainty, and for financial losses in their first years under the law, insurers demanded big rate increases, to bring their revenue into line with their costs.

"Premiums would have dropped more on average if not for harmful Trump administration actions", said Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The administration has granted waivers to seven states allowing them to set up programs that help pay the largest claims with a combination of state and federal funds. "To open the markets to more Americans ... as well as the millions who are priced out of the market, the law needs to change", she said. The administration is expanding access to alternative plans that don't have to meet consumer protections of the health care law, for example.

And while Verma called this year's premium decrease "dramatic" when compared to the last several years and categorized marketplace stabilization as "real progress", she maintained her position that the ACA is failing consumers. Congress and the president ended certain subsidies for low-income Americans. However, insurer experts were quick to disagree, pointing to the high premium hikes of 2018 as the main reason premiums are stabilizing or declining this year, according to The Hill. So far, the higher premiums haven't happened.

Consumers will get less assistance this fall in shopping for exchange plans.

"While some have publicly been accusing us of sabotage, the reality is we have been working hard to mitigate damage caused by Obamacare", she said.

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