ObamaCare premiums slated to rise by an average of 7.5 percent

Premiums on ObamaCare's health insurance exchanges will rise by an average of 7.5 percent next year, according to a new analysis.

Data compiled by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PricewaterhouseCoopers found modest changes in premiums for 27 states and the District of Columbia, with the increases mostly falling short of dire predictions for ObamaCare’s second year.

The average national increase of 7.5 percent is "well below the double-digit increases many feared," HRI Managing Director Ceci Connolly wrote in an email. 

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The highest proposed rate increase so far came in Nevada, where consumers with Time Insurance Co. might see their insurance premiums rise by 36 percent. Some consumers in Arizona, on the other hand, could see rates drop by 23 percent.

Overall, the highest average price increases under ObamaCare so far have come in Indiana, where some consumers will see prices rise by 15.4 percent. The biggest average savings were found in Oregon, where premiums will drop an average of 2.5 percent in 2015.

"The average individual monthly premium for next year, before any subsidies are applied, is $384," Connolly wrote. "And insurance commissioners get a chance to weigh in on rates before fall enrollment."

Forecasts of massive "sticker shock" became a theme of last fall's debate over the healthcare law as the administration struggled to launch HealthCare.gov, which serves as the enrollment portal for people in 36 states.

The healthcare law's first enrollment period was a major test for the insurance industry, which set premium prices with little information about exactly who might sign up for coverage.

The 2015 rates shed light on how well their guesses panned out.

Companies are generally raising prices if their new customers are older, sicker or will use more medical care than projected.

Firms with a healthier pool, on the other hand, have an incentive to lower premiums.

The PWC analysis noted that "bellwether" firms such as Blue Cross Blue Shield have submitted increases that are typically above 9 percent.

"Health plans are just beginning to understand this new market and will keep experimenting with different products, different networks and running a retail-style business," Connolly wrote.

ObamaCare's second enrollment period begins Nov. 15.

Consumer advocates are urging people on the exchanges to prepare to comparison shop if they want to avoid price increases of any magnitude.

Experts are also waiting on state insurance regulators to deliver the final verdict on some of the higher proposed rate increases.

Those officials play a serious role in determining how much plans will actually cost consumers, according to a recent blog post for the journal Health Affairs.

"The business tendency will be to … err on the side of caution and to pad estimates to protect reserves," wrote Christopher Koller and Sabrina Corlette.

"Comprehensive, independent, public scrutiny of the requested rate increases and the insurers’ justification for them is absolutely necessary to find a healthy balance between product affordability and insurer stability."