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Federal marketplace insurance premiums see decrease for first time since reform enacted

By Wendy Leonard, KSL | Posted - Oct. 25, 2018 at 7:31 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The average premium for federal health exchange policies actually decreased slightly for the coming year, as opposed to double-digit increases experienced in the past.

"It's nice to finally have some happy news to report," Jaakob Sundberg, health actuary with the Utah Insurance Department, told members of the state's Health Reform Task Force on Thursday.

He reported "smooth sailing" for the coming year, depending on the coverage level people choose.

The decrease, though small, is the first of its kind since the Affordable Care Act put the health insurance marketplace into play in 2014.

Sundberg said the average premium in the individual market decreased by 1.5 percent, though premiums for gold level coverage increased an average of 7 percent.

The rates in the small group market remained about the same, though consumers could get more coverage on a higher level plan through small group insurance available through small-business employers for the same price they'd pay for a lower level on the individual marketplace.

"We're fortunate this year to have some smaller increases," Sundberg said.

The changes are largely due to the fact that the federal government remitted the health insurance tax for the upcoming year. Rates would have been 2 to 4 percent higher if that was required from insurers.

Sundberg said the tax has been inconsistently applied over the years, remitted in two of the past nine years.

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Rates have climbed steadily over the years, with a nearly 30 percent increase in 2016. In 2017, premiums became prohibitive for many people and enrollment decreased significantly by the end of the year.

Enrollment is up for 2018, with 218,132 Utahns enrolled in individual plans, according to the insurance department report.

Molina Healthcare has joined the marketplace, meaning many counties throughout Utah will offer three carriers instead of just two last year.

Sundberg said it is difficult to predict how the market will react next year, but he believes things are heading in the "right direction."

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