Higher costs, fewer options face healthcare consumers in 2018

The loss of a carrier and rising premiums are expected to make buying health insurance on the federal exchange more costly for North Dakotans in 2018.

North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread, in Minot Thursday, said approved health insurance premium rates for Affordable Care Act-compliant individual and group plans are up on average. Those average increases range from 2.3 to 11.8 percent for about 30,000 North Dakotans in small group plans and 7.9 to 22.6 percent for about 42,000 North Dakotans enrolled in individual plans. Small group plans are those with 2 to 50 employees.

Medica Health Plan no longer will be offered for individuals in the federal exchange, where subsidies are available. Plans still will be sold through insurance agents outside the exchange.

Godfread said North Dakota is more fortunate than some states in that there continues to be two companies remaining in the exchange’s individual marketplace.

“We are fortunate in North Dakota to have competition in our individual and group markets, giving our consumers the opportunity to shop around. As open enrollment periods for 2018 approach, it is important for North Dakotans to shop amongst the three health insurance companies selling in our state to make sure they find health insurance that fits their needs at the best price,” Godfread said.

Open enrollment begins Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15.

Consumers most affected by the higher rates will be small business owners, farmers, ranchers and other individuals whose incomes exclude them from eligibility for premium subsidies, Godfread said.

“They are bearing the brunt of all the increases,” he said.

The insurance department approves rates after reviewing factors such as increased use and cost of services to consumers, benefit changes, administrative expenses for companies, government mandates and costs related to federal health care reform.

Godfread said he continues to advocate for increased competition and solutions that lower the cost of coverage, including greater state control and more flexibility.

About 84 percent of North Dakotans receive their insurance through employers that self-insure, participate in “grandfathered” plans purchased before March 2010 or receive benefits from government plans, such as Medicaid, Medicare or Tricare. The federal exchange rates will not affect their plans.