Double-digit increases for ACA health insurance plans are on the horizon

Illinois residents who buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s exchange are likely to see price increases for the next year — in some cases by double-digit percentages.

Ten Illinois insurance companies that sell plans on the healthcare.gov exchange are offering average rate increases of about 3 percent to nearly 16 percent for plans in 2023. Consumers can start shopping Nov. 1 for plans on healthcare.gov for next year.

The state’s largest health insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, is proposing an average rate increase of 5.3 percent. Celtic Insurance Co., which sells plans called Ambetter, is offering an average rate increase of 13.7 percent. UnitedHealthcare of Illinois is offering an average rate increase of nearly 16%.

Nearly 230,000 Illinoisans have individual plans for affordable care through Blue Cross. About 54,000 people could be affected by the Celtic/Ambetter rate change and about 5,500 with UnitedHealthcare could be affected, according to documents the insurers provided with their proposals.

More than 320,000 Illinois residents purchased health plans on the exchange in 2022. Most people in Illinois get health insurance through their jobs or government programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Blue Cross, Celtic and UnitedHealthcare blamed the proposed increases on rising medical costs, among other factors, in documents submitted with their proposals on healthcare.gov. The proposals are likely to be finalized in the coming months.

Blue Cross, Celtic and UnitedHealthcare did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Stephanie Becker, associate director of health justice at the Chicago-based Shriver Center on Poverty Law, said Illinois consumers should be aware that federal subsidies will once again help hold down health insurance costs next year. Still, she said any increase is worrisome.

“(The cost of) everything is going up right now, so the last thing Illinois families need is for their health insurance costs to jump again,” Becker said. “It is so important for both our federal representatives and our state representatives to do everything possible to contain these costs.”

The increases follow years of declining prices and come amid uncertainty about the future of federal subsidies that help consumers offset the cost of insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges.

Many people have long received the subsidies to help lower the monthly cost of insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act exchanges. In Illinois, 85 percent of people who bought plans through the exchange in 2020 also received the subsidies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Amid the pandemic, in 2021 President Joe Biden signed a bill that makes these subsidies more generous for many people and expands the number of people eligible for them.

Now, these increased subsidies are scheduled to expire at the end of this year and return to their previous parameters. After much dithering, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, recently agreed to legislation aimed at combating climate change that would also extend enhanced tax credits through 2025. However, passage of the legislation is not yet guaranteed.

Advocates of the increased subsidies fear that if they disappear, many consumers may drop their health insurance because it will no longer be as affordable.

If the increased subsidies are not extended, people making more than four times the federal poverty level will no longer be eligible for subsidies.

That means, for example, that in Illinois a 40-year-old buying a silver-level plan on the exchange and making $51,521 a year could see a premium increase of about 15 percent, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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