ObamaCare insurers in Virginia propose major premium hikes for 2019

ObamaCare insurers in Virginia propose major premium hikes for 2019

Two of Virginia’s ObamaCare insurers are requesting significant premium hikes for 2019, according to initial filings released Friday.

Both Cigna and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield cited policies advocated by the Trump administration, including the repeal of ObamaCare's individual mandate, as part of its justifications for the increases.

Cigna is proposing an average premium increase of 15 percent for its 103,264 customers in Virginia, with a range of increases from 6.4 percent to 40 percent.

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CareFirst is proposing a 64 percent increase for its approximately 4,500 customers in the commonwealth, citing an increase in sicker people entering the marketplace.

The pro-ObamaCare group Protect Our Care Campaign was quick to attack the administration following the news.

"Until we stop Republicans’ war on health care, health care experts predict that rates will keep rising by double digits," said the group's director, Brad Woodhouse. "D.C. Republicans should start working on bipartisan solutions to make coverage more affordable, instead of helping their friends in the insurance industry make another buck on the backs of hardworking Virginians.”

There are seven insurers participating in ObamaCare exchanges in Virginia for 2019, and only three so far have posted their filing requests. The third, Optima, has requested a 5 percent decrease for next year. 

The rate increases requested Friday by Cigna and CareFirst are not necessarily what state officials will approve.

Cigna said it anticipates sicker people will be entering the market this year because of the repeal of the individual mandate, which required people to buy insurance or face a tax penalty. The insurer also cited “anticipated changes to regulations” involving short-term plans and association health plans as the reason for the premium increases.

The Trump administration is pushing to allow people to buy short-term health insurance for up to 12 months, lifting Obama-era restrictions that limited the coverage to a maximum of three months. Under such plans, people with pre-existing conditions can be charged more.

The plans also do not have to comply with ObamaCare mandates for covering certain services, such as mental health treatment or prescription drugs.

The Trump administration argues the 12-month plans would create an alternative for people who can't afford ObamaCare-compliant plans that cover a comprehensive list of services.

In January, the administration issued rules expanding "association health plans," which allow small businesses or self-employed individuals to band together to buy coverage. Republicans argue the move will provide cheaper options outside ObamaCare.

Final regulations on both types of insurance are expected later this year.