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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Officials announced new premium rates for small group and individual health insurance plans Friday, with critics highlighting substantial increases for individual plans for CareFirst of Maryland Inc. — the largest insurer for the state's exchange.
The new rates announced by the Maryland Insurance Administration are for coverage beginning in 2016. In total, the administration said, rates are about $66.4 million less than what insurers had proposed in May.
"The new rates approved by the Maryland Insurance Administration reflect the trends we've seen in the health insurance market over the last two years," said Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer. "MIA's adjustments to the requests from insurers will support our primary goal — ensuring that Marylanders benefit from a competitive and effective health insurance marketplace."
Critics, however, pointed to increases of between 19 percent and 26 percent in individual insurance rates for CareFirst, which had requested increases as high as 30.4 percent. On average, CareFirst rates for individual plans will increase by about 24 percent.
Leni Preston, chair of the Maryland Women's Coalition for Health Care Reform, said the increases will put an undue financial strain on thousands of residents.
"In practice, these rate hikes will reverse the progress Maryland has made to make health care more affordable and more accessible for consumers," Preston said.
Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for CareFirst, said increases were needed because premiums were not covering costs of medical bills. People seeking coverage under the health care reform law were older and sicker than expected, driving up costs, Sullivan said, adding that CareFirst is a nonprofit insurer.
"We want the rates to cover the costs of actually providing the coverage and the care, and so that's what these rates reflect," Sullivan said.
Overall, the new rates affect about 8 percent of Maryland residents. About 4.2 percent are in the small group market, and about 3.9 percent are in the individual market, according to the insurance administration. More than 90 percent of state residents are covered by health insurance plans offered through large employers, employers who self-insure or federal plans.
The next open enrollment period for Maryland's health care exchange runs from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31. Maryland officials are urging residents to shop for rates. Residents can sign up for new plans or renew existing ones during the open enrollment period.
Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the state health exchange, noted that financial assistance remains available for those who qualify. She said more than nine out of 10 enrollees received assistance in 2015.
"Particularly with changing rates — some going up, others going down — consumers should make sure they have the best plan for themselves and their families," Quattrocki said.
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