State health insurers seek rate increases

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Montana’s three major health insurance companies have asked to up their rates, according to the State Auditor’s office. The most recent requests come after Montana was hit with double-digit premium rate increases two years in a row, but fall below last year’s jump in price.

Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Matt Rosendale announced the proposed 2018 increases Tuesday.

“Health insurance is already too expensive for many Montanans, and additional increases are certainly unwelcome news for families struggling to make ends meet,” Rosendale said.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, which covers roughly 32,000 Montanans in the individual market, requested an average increase of 23.1 percent for 2018. In comparison, last year the insurance company settled on an average rate increase of 55.3 percent.

The Montana Health CO-OP requested an increase of 4 percent. The CO-OP insures about 20,000 Montanans in the individual market.

PacificSource requested an average increase of 7.4 percent and insures approximately 12,000 residents in the individual market.

The proposed rate changes announced Tuesday won’t impact Montanans who have health insurance through their employer or a government program.

Montana law gives the State Auditor’s office the authority to review insurance rates, but it can’t deny rate increases unless they’re deemed unfairly discriminatory.

Rosendale said his office is reviewing the proposed changes to “make sure they are justified.” The State Auditor’s Office will hold two public meetings on the rates this month.

“I am continuing to push for reforms at both the federal and state levels to lower the cost of health care and health insurance,” Rosendale said. “Montanans deserve better than the current policies like Obamacare that reduce access to health care, limit choices, and drive up costs.”

In recent years, Republicans have pointed to health insurance premium increases under Obama’s law as a reason to repeal and replace the act.

The U.S. Senate’s current plan to unwind the nation’s health law could cost Montana $5.3 billion in federal dollars for its Medicaid program by 2026, according to a recent report.

The report, released in June by Manatt Health and commissioned by the Montana Healthcare Foundation, also estimates more than 75,000 adults enrolled through Montana’s Medicaid expansion could lose coverage by 2021.

Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines has not yet said whether he is in favor of the Senate’s current plan to undo Obama’s law, a law he has repeatedly criticized.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, however, has said the undoing of the Affordable Care Act would be a step backward for Montanans.

In a statement after Tuesday’s announcement, Congressman Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., said he still hopes to replace Obamacare with “consumer-centered reforms.”

“Despite promises that Obamacare would lower premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, hard-working Montanans are facing yet another year of higher insurance cost,” he said in a press statement.

Gianforte also said Americans’ choices are disappearing as nearly 40 percent fewer insurers intend to offer plans through Obama’s law this year compared to 2016.

Montana’s major health insurers have remained in the state.

An analysis released by the Kaiser Family Foundation on Monday found health insurers are paying a lower share of premiums out in medical claims in their first-quarter earnings in 2017 than in any comparable period since the current health law went into effect.

As the future of Obama’s health-care law remains uncertain, the Trump administration has not committed to continue to make payments for the health law’s subsidies, which roughly 7 million people receive to help cover their deductibles and other out-of-pocket health costs.

In May, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners announced that the unclear future of funding for cost-sharing reduction subsidies alone could increase premiums by roughly 20 percent, “or even more.”

Rosendale said Montana’s health insurance rates for 2018 will be finalized sometime in mid-August.

The first public meeting on the proposed rate changes will be in Billings on July 24 at 5:30 p.m. The second public meeting will be in Helena on July 26 at 1 p.m.

Comments on proposed 2018 rate changes to through August 1.

A summary of the proposed health insurance rate changes, agendas for the public meetings, and instructions for submitting public comment are available at

Reporter Katheryn Houghton may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at

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