HHS: O-Care customers will pay more if they don’t shop around

Federal health officials are warning people with health insurance under ObamaCare that they could face rate hikes of nearly 10 percent if they don’t shop around for other plans.

About 65 percent of existing customers can get coverage for $100 or less next year if they browse their options on the marketplace, according to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But if they choose to automatically re-enroll on the marketplace, it’s less likely they will receive a deal on premiums.

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“For the vast majority of people, if they stay in the same plan, they’ll see rate increases in high single digits,” Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal insurance marketplace, said in a conference call.

“These are really important savings,” Counihan added. “We strongly, strongly encourage people to come back to the website and shop.”

Federal health officials have doubled down on efforts to bring existing customers back into the marketplace. If all returning consumers switched to the lowest-cost plan available to them, they would save more than $2 billion in premiums, the report said.

Most new customers will also benefit from the lower prices. More than 80 percent will be able to find health insurance plans for less than $100 a month on the insurance exchange, according to the report, which included data from 35 states using the federal exchange.

Premiums have also been slow to increase in 2015, rising by an average of 2 percent for the most common plan. The figures are more good news for the Obama administration, as it fends off a barrage of recent attacks on its healthcare law.

Health insurance customers have just three weeks left to sign up for insurance through ObamaCare's exchanges before the new year.

Existing customers who do not return to the marketplace will receive at least three notices from the federal government reminding them to shop around for plans, said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Principal Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt. Some will be contacted as many as a dozen times, he said.

Counihan, who is in his first year overseeing the marketplace, said he is “pleased” with open enrollment so far. HHS announced Wednesday that more than 765,000 people have picked plans in the last 20 days, and a total of 1.5 million people have submitted applications.

“We’re off to a good start,” he said. “We’re where we want to be in our implementation.”

Competition among insurance companies has also substantially increased over the last year.

More than 90 percent of people can buy a plan from at least three insurance companies, compared to 74 percent last year, according to the report. Customers are also seeing an average of 10 extra plans to choose from, HHS said.

The new figures show a major improvement from the insurance landscape in 2013, when the three largest insurance companies in each state held an average of 86 percent of customers, according to a federal audit released earlier this week.